Forage testing can help producers identify deficiencies in supplies so they can determine nutrient supplements to counter what could be another harsh winter, a Purdue Extension beef cattle specialist says.

Ron Lemenager said nutrient profiles in some hay samples are low this year because of harvest delays and excessive rain during this past growing season, which may have resulted in mature plants, nutrient leaching and some mold development in forage supply.

Cows can be affected by wind chill temperatures below 30 degrees and require nutrient and energy supplements even if forage is of fair quality. Insufficient forage nutrition this winter could lead to poor body condition of cows, calving challenges, reduced calf health, longer post-partum intervals, lower conception rates, increased age at puberty and reduced fertility in bulls.

"Since forages are the foundation of most beef cow diets and heifer development diets, their nutrient profile should be used to develop cost-effective supplementation strategies to optimizeanimal performance and profitability," Lemenager said.

Lemenager suggested these techniques to obtain samples for forage analysis through a commercial lab:

  • Collect one composite sample from each lot in which all forage is of the same type, was harvested on the same date and is stored in a similar manner.
  • Collect at least 20 hay core samples per lot in random locations throughout a stack and mix them together into one composite sample. * Place approximately one pound of mixed sample into a clean, sealed plastic bag and store in a cool, dry place before mailing it to a lab. Silage may also be tested following these guidelines:
  • Collect fresh silage grab samples across the face of the silo over several days.
  • Grab samples should be mixed and one pound should be placed in a clean plastic bag from each day and refrigerated to prevent heating and mold.
  • Mix daily samples together into one composite sample and place about two pounds into a sealed plastic bag and send it to be tested in a sealed box with an ice pack.

To find a testing laboratory nearby, visit the National Forage Testing Association website,http://www.foragetesting.org/files/2013_Certified_Labs.pdf. Testing is usually between $15 and $20 for a basic forage test, and results may be provided in a couple of days.

Lemenager says producers who need help to develop a supplementation strategy for their herd should contact their local Extension educator or a beef Extension specialist.

Basic supplement suggestions based on forage testing results:

  • Energy supplements: Corn, soybean hulls, corn silage.
  • Protein and energy supplements: Corn gluten feed, distiller's grains, soybean meal.
  • Mineral supplements: May require a change in mineral sources and composition.