Feed sampling will help with beef cow energy and protein supplementation

Feed sampling and analysis can pay huge dividends.

A group of beef cows

Wintering beef cows has become a challenge in many parts of Michigan. Our late start to spring along with surplus moisture in the 2019 growing season limited the production of average and high-quality hay. During the winter of 2018-19, many producers purchased hay from new sources. In some cases, these sources were fed, and cows lost significant body condition. After sampling, we found protein, energy and digestibility values well below expectation and not meeting cow nutritional requirements.  Subsequent calving issues resulted from reduced nutritional levels.

Feed sampling should be considered whenever feed values for energy and protein are in question. This applies to your own forages or any purchased forages. Forage sampling also helps both parties with an equitable transaction when purchasing feedstuffs and will help producers economically meet nutritional requirements. Two feed testing labs available to Michigan producers are Dairy Lab Services and Cumberland Valley Analytical Services. Please note that these are just two services and there may be others that are available. Listing or omission does not imply endorsement or disapproval of these services.

Forage testing labs in Michigan:



For producers with reduced winter feed inventories, it’s time to start thinking outside  the box.    Feedstuffs like crop residues, baleage, corn silage, high moisture corn and others should all be considered. These products often contain significant amounts of water and generally cannot be hauled long distances economically. Many must be fed quickly in warm conditions but may a have longer shelf life in cold conditions. To find out more information about related feed resources click here.

Finally, ration balancing can be a critical step, especially when feedstuffs are below expected values for energy and protein. When the primary feed resource values are known, it becomes much easier to identify needed supplements and create affordable balanced rations. Protein and energy are the two main limiting factors in rations. Energy can easily be supplemented using corn. Dry distillers grain (DDG) if available, can serve as an affordable protein and energy option.  Don’t forget to make mineral and vitamin adjustment as rations change. Feel free to contact your MSU Extension Beef Educator for help with ration questions or changes.  Virgina Cooperative Extension also has a useful bulletin on beef cow nutritional requirements

Be ready for the next polar vortex and make ration adjustments as needed. Hopefully, we will be spared the extreme conditions this winter.

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