Feed testing advice for livestock producers

The North Coast Local Land Services Sustainable Agriculture team has provided advice to livestock producers about the importance of feed testing.

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.

Brendan O’Brien, Senior Land Services Officer, said, “without knowing the quality of your feed, you’re unable to predict the future outcome of your feed, thus knowledge of failure or success comes too late.

“With the current conditions, producers may be considering buying large quantities of fodder – perhaps from sources that haven’t been used before – in that instance it is recommended to get a feed test.

“While there may be some indications of the quality of the feed, such as the parent material, for the most part you cannot tell the quality of the feed simply by looking at it - simply, it costs the same to transport good fodder as it does to transport bad livestock feed.”

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 tell you the nutritional composition of your feed, or in other words the feed value, be it hay, silage, grain, pasture or pellets. It will tell you the amount of megajoules of energy (MJ/Kg DM), Crude Protein (CP) and Dry Matter (DM) per kg of the feed. By knowing what exactly you have bought enables you to accurately formulate feed rations for your livestock (don’t forget to account for wastage and spoilage).

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.

Brendan continued, “Knowing what the feed quality is becomes even more critical when you have cow and calve units, that require higher energy (ME/MJ) and crude protein (CP) feed. A small difference in feed quality can make a large difference in the amount of livestock feed required.”

Tips on how to formulate a ration are in the Drought Handbook which is available by visiting the NSW DPI Drought Hub 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.

Feed tests are easy to do, if you need more information on how to do a feed test and interpret the results you can contact your Local Land Services Office on 1300 795 299.

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