NDSU Extension - Williams County


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November 18, 2015

Nutritional Value of Feed


During the winter months, especially in western North Dakota, one of few options ranchers have for feed is grass. During the summer months they wait until the right time, start to middle of July, to cut and bale their hay fields. Feeding this grass hay may raise some questions for ranchers, is this hay healthy enough for my cattle? Raising cattle is a yearlong job, winter time can be tough on the ranchers just as much as it is tough on the cattle. Testing feed for nutritional value may be on top of the never ending “to do list” for some ranchers, and towards the bottom for others. If you get your hay tested, the minimum tests that should be completed for cattle are dry matter, crude protein and energy (measured by acid detergent fiber).  There are other tests that can be done, for an additional cost, to figure out what minerals are present and their levels. They hay can be tested for the following minerals; calcium, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, zinc, selenium and others. After getting your results, and possibly being low on a mineral, energy or crude protein levels, a well-balanced mineral mix can help you supplement the remaining nutritional needs.

Energy is needed to provide heat for the cattle, muscle contraction and growth, all animals need energy to perform those three functions. This year, across the state, most grass hays have been testing low in energy. Grass hay should have 52-56%, but some hays are being tested and results show energy levels are at 40-45%. Hays with that low of an energy level need supplemental energy or the cattle will lose weight during the winter months. Low energy levels in alfalfa hay can happen if it had rained on the hay after cutting and before bailing. Protein content, across the state, have been showing adequate protein content, a cow needs a ration of 7-9% crude protein and calves need 11-13% crude protein. Dry matter tests will determine how much dry feed is in a ton of feed. This test should be done if feeding co-products like beet pulp or beet tailings, as wet pulp can have as much as 85% water. Therefore, wet pulp would need to be fed as double the ration to provide the same dry matter and energy content to cattle. Dry matter, energy and protein can change yearly in fields and can be drastically different among feeds.  This information was gathered by Karl Hoppe, Area Extension Livestock Specialist at the Carrington Research Extension Center. 


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