NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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NDSU Extension Offers Advice on Feeding Low-quality Forage to Cattle

low-quality forage, feeding low-quality forage to cattle

Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent/Agriculture and Natural Resources                                

Mercer County had lower than average hay crops this year and many producers reported having poor quality hay. These results will force producers to find alternative feeds so producers will want a good understanding of the quality of hay they have so they can maximize the output.

Livestock producers are faced with low-quality forage and lack of available forage this year because of poor growing and harvesting conditions. While some producers have plentiful hay, rain during and after cutting resulted in reduced forage quality due to mold, leaf loss, shatter and nutrient leaching. Characteristics of low-quality forages include high fiber content, low crude protein (CP) and energy (total digestible nutrients or TDN) content, and reduced fiber digestibility.

Low-quality forages also may have tough, coarse stems and reduced leaf-to-stem ratios, which can reduce palatability to livestock. In general, dry-matter intake typically is reduced with low-quality forages and the potential for nutrient deficiencies is increased.

"Although beef cows are able to utilize low-quality forages to some degree, supplementation will likely be necessary to meet nutrient requirements this winter for spring-calving cows," says Janna Block, North Dakota State University Extension livestock specialist based at the Hettinger Research Extension Center.

"The last trimester of gestation is extremely critical in terms of nutritional management of the cow herd," she adds. "Protein and energy requirements of the cow will increase by 15% to 20% from midgestation to support rapid fetal and placental growth and prepare for lactation."

Consequences of feeding low-quality forages to pregnant cattle without appropriate supplementation include weight and body condition losses, lowered immune function, calving difficulty, calf health issues, reduced milk production and decreased conception rates.

The best way to utilize any forage is through proper sampling and laboratory analysis so that the correct supplement can be used.

"Recognizing that forage quality can be affected by a variety of environmental factors during harvest and storage, it is extremely important to determine chemical composition of all available forage through laboratory analysis to develop an effective feeding strategy," says Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist.

For more information on feed sampling and analysis, Meehan recommends the NDSU Extension publication "Sampling Feed for Analysis," which is available at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/livestock/sampling-feed-for-analysis.

In addition to potential protein and energy deficiencies, weather-damaged forages may be deficient in minerals and vitamins. These components of feeds are very small and often overlooked; however, they are critical for growth, immune function and reproduction.

"Analysis for mineral content of forages is an additional cost, but it can be extremely valuable in helping producers choose an appropriate mineral supplement," Block says.

Vitamins are classified as water soluble (B complex, vitamin C) or fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E and K). Increased supplementation of vitamins A and E should be considered with low-quality forages, particularly during the last trimester of gestation and the first few months of lactation.

Vitamin A deficiency can reduce feed intake, cause digestive disorders and result in negative impacts on reproduction, including low conception rates, abortion and stillborn or weak calves. Vitamin E is closely tied to immune function

Beef cattle requirements for vitamin A are 1,273 international units (IU) per pound of dry feed for pregnant cows and heifers and 1,773 IU per pound of dry feed for lactating cows and breeding bulls. Vitamin E requirements are less established but are estimated at 16 IU per pound of dry feed for pregnant or lactating cows.

A vitamin A-D-E premix package often is added to mineral mixtures or commercial supplements. Producers should note that vitamin activity can be reduced through time in vitamin or vitamin-mineral premixes, even when a stabilized form is used.

Research has shown activity losses of up to 25% after three months of storage and up to 50% after more than a year. Check the manufacturing date for these supplements to make sure they are being used in a timely manner.

Another option is to provide a two-to three-month supply of vitamins through injections. Some producers have reported injection site tissue damage, so be sure to read the label and follow beef quality assurance injection guidelines at (https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/bqa/documents/injections).

Some additional resources for feed options, feeding guidelines and calculating feed costs are available on the NDSU Extension website at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/extension/livestock.

If you have questions or need more information, contact NDSU Extension Mercer County at 701.873.5195.

Source: Janna Block, 701.567.4323, janna.block@ndsu.edu

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