Quality Forage during Hard Economic Times

Jul 26, 2023

When forage is the main segment of the diet, quality of a pasture or crop will ultimately be determined by performance of the animal (growth, reproduction, lactation, performance in a horse, etc.). Forage quality, defined simply as the ability of a given forage to meet nutrient needs of the consuming animal, can be affected by multiple factors. Feed represents larger portions of production costs, and from a general sense, similar costs will be incurred whether forage is determined to be good or poor quality. Providing the best possible forage determines the amount of supplemental feed to be purchased to meet animal requirements. Undoubtedly, input costs for maintaining necessary forage growth and health will be much higher than in past years. Just as with the animal, requirements for desired level of performance do not necessarily change when fertilization or crop protection costs change.
Consider the following:
  •  Determine what quantity of forage will be necessary to supply animals to be fed.
Not only are fertilizer costs increasing, but purchased feed is rising. Forage will still represent the least cost feedstuff, and providing the best possible quality can aid in profitability.
  • Obtain a suitable and representative soil sample and apply as necessary.
From a forage management perspective, fertilization is one of the primary tools used to boost production. Notwithstanding current economies of input costs, it remains imperative to properly determine your fertilization strategy. Plants also need nutrients to grow at the optimum rate, and there is no real way to determine quantities needed of nitrogen, phosphorous, or potassium from a visual perspective.The most economical nutrient management is to specifically know and understand how much to apply.
  • Manage weed growth.
Completely eliminating all weeds is probably not practical. However, herbicide application could be necessary as weeds will reduce forage growth and interfere with forage quality.
  • If producing hay, prevent storage loss and wastage.
With the cost of producing forage, extraneous waste cannot be afforded. University of Tennessee data has suggested as much as 40% spoilage when storing hay on the ground.
  • Plan to harvest forage at the appropriate time.
No matter which forage variety you choose to graze or harvest, or the level of nitrogen or mineral fertilization utilized, maturity will have the greatest effect on digestibility and energy available to livestock. When managing both forage quantity and quality, grazing or harvesting before the plant gross maturity will result in the most optimal animal acceptance and performance.
Forages can produce the most affordable rations to feed livestock. Forage production can be most profitable through simple managerial practices, and it is very important to understand the cost of forage production. Our Co-op Feed & Animal Health Specialists can assist in determining the best possible course for balanced rations. Find the Co-op nearest you here!

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With winter conditions upon us, meeting our animals’ nutrient requirements is key to the economic success of our beef herds. For spring-calving cows, winter feeding coincides with the last third of gestation and early lactation. During this cycle, these cows require a higher level of nutrition than do dry cows in early gestation.
Everything starts with forage, both quantity and quality. It’s important to test and evaluate your forage to understand the amount of nutrients needed to meet the animal’s requirement. A basic forage analysis will offer information about the protein, fiber, and energy levels present, allowing producers to rank hay from various fields and cuttings according to their relative feeding value. Highest quality hays can then be reserved for lactating cows, heifers, and thin cows.