Feed testing advice for livestock producers

Feeding and managing your cattle herd can be challenging at times, especially when dealing with cycles of flood and drought conditions. There are a lot of management decisions to be made, many of which are time sensitive.

Feed testing can help livestock producers understand the production potential of feed and the suitability of feed for maintenance, production, pregnant or lactating animals.  To assist producers, Northern Tablelands Local Land Services are currently offering up to 2 feed quality tests, 1 water quality test and soil testing free to charge to producers in the Northern Tablelands.

Tahnee Manton, Senior Land Services Officer, said that knowing that quality of feed helps producers predict the quantity needed for their livestock, and is especially important if they are buying feed from sources they haven't used before.

"It can be very difficult to tell a feed's quality just by looking at it, and it costs the same to transport good fodder as it does to transport poor quality feed", she said. "A small difference in feed quality can make a big difference in the amount of livestock feed required."

One of the most important principles when sourcing livestock feed is to cost out the most economical feed source. This can be determined by knowing the dry matter content and the feed value, in particular energy. It is more economical to source feed with a high dry matter content such as hay and grain if you are transporting long distances.

A feed test will show the nutritional composition of your feed, or in other words the feed value, be it hay, silage, grain, pasture or pellets. It will reveal the amount of megajoules of energy (MJ/Kg DM), Crude Protein (CP) and Dry Matter (DM) per kg of the feed. This helps producers accurately formulate feed rations for their livestock.

The other principle is to source fodder with the highest and the cheapest energy value (MJ/KG DM), often expressed as Metabolizable energy or Megajoules of energy (ME/MJ). This can only be determined through a feed test. Even small differences of 1 MJ/ME can make a difference in the cost of feeding livestock and weight gain.

One example is a silage of 8 ME/MJ energy compared to the same costing silage of 9 ME/MJ. Just a difference of 1 MJ/ME energy will mean an extra 2kg of feed per head, per day, is required for an average mature dry cow. If this is expanded over a herd of 50 head for 30 days, this could mean an extra 3 tonne of feed required. Expanded over 6 months, an extra 18 tonnes of silage will be required.

Tips on how to formulate a ration are in the Drought Handbook which is available at www.droughthub.nsw.gov.au or on the NSW DPI Drought and Supplementary Feed Calculator which can be download as a phone app or found online at the Drought Hub. The calculator can help with decisions around when you should supplementary feed, how much and the cost for the feeding period.

For more information on feed testing, contact your Local Land Services Office on 1300 795 299.

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