Silage for Beef Cattle 2018 Conference

Last week I attended the Silage for Beef Cattle Conference in Mead, NE.  For those of you who put up corn silage, or provide advice for those who do I would highly recommend listening to the online uploads from this conference as well as looking over the proceedings. Here are 8 key concepts I took away from the conference:

  1. Processing is crucial.

Processing of the grain is very important to the digestibility and therefore, energy availability of the corn silage.  It is recommended that there should not be a single intact corn kernel in the final silage product.  To monitor this, separate the forage portion of the silage from the grain and then closely inspect the grain.  Adequate and consistent monitoring through the chopping process is key.

  1. Determining when to harvest is difficult and varies by operation.

As the plant matures fiber increases, kernel hardness increases thereby decreasing the digestibility of the forage and starch portions of the plant.  However, at a more immature stage less corn kernels are present, and the moisture of the plant is too high for ensiling.  Therefore, the recommendation was to harvest a week before or at black layer when the dry matter content of the green chop is between 33 – 38%.  However, the best practices may differ from operation to operation.

  1. Ensiling time is important.

As fermentation time increases, starch digestibility also increases.  For the fermentation to go to completion, it is recommended to ensile at least 90 days, but 120 days would be optimal.

  1. Packing is key to minimize shrink and prevent spoilage.

Delayed packing increases risk of yeast and mold spoilage.  It is also important to pack with enough weight and consistency.  Check out this packing density calculator from University of Wisconsin extension.

  1. Proper covering is also key to prevent shrink and spoilage.

O2 barrier plastics are the best option for covering, however polyethylene coverings are also an option with about a 5% difference in dry matter recovery.

  1. There are lots of ways ensiling can go wrong.

Silage contaminants can come from many different sources including soil, damages plants from hail or insects, manure, wildlife, rodents and birds.  These contaminants can include infectious microorganism such as salmonella, listeria, clostridia and toxin producing molds or undesirable fermentation by-products such as toxic amines or ammonia.

  1. Feeding spoiled corn silage at any inclusion rate is detrimental to rumen health.

Both dry matter intake and digestibility of neutral detergent fiber decrease when spoiled corn silage is included in the diet.  Additionally, when cannulated cattle were examined, the forage mat in the rumen was completely destroyed, again at any inclusion rate of spoiled corn silage.

  1. Producers can determine if they have aerobic deterioration of silage on farm.

At Ward Laboratories, Inc, I often suggest producers who are unsure of their silage to test both mold count and pH.  On farm producers can take the temperature of the center of the pile and other outer locations.  Moldy spots will be 20-30°F hotter, with up to 8 times the coliform forming units of mold than the core of the pile.

Again, this is a snapshot of the important information shared at the corn silage conference.  Check out the online uploads and consider sending your silage samples to Ward Laboratories Inc. to test for nutrient contents, pH, moisture and mold count.

Backyard Bird Feeders

Recently, here at Ward Laboratories, Inc., birds have been the topic of conversation.  We have had birds in nest over our doorways:

babydove
Eurasian Collared Dove

birds in nests in surrounding trees:

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Robin

and even birds in the ceiling!

bird in ceiling
Starling in the Ceiling

Additionally, being located in Kearney, NE, we see our fair share of avid bird watchers who are drawn to the area to view over half a million Sandhill Cranes that stop here in the Platte River Valley to refuel along their spring migration.  So, with all this talk about birds, of course I thought I should share our testing of bird food.

If you supply bird food to your backyard feathered friends, you have probably noticed there is a guaranteed analysis provided on each bag.  Commercial bird feed formulations are required to set minimum crude protein, minimum crude fat and maximum crude fiber levels.  Here at Ward Laboratories, INC., we test bird feed so the manufacturer can  ensure they are meeting set standards for each seed type or mixed feed.

 

birdseed
Bird Seeds 

5 Steps for Proper Hay Sampling

With the first cutting of hay coming off fields in southern states, I am reminded that proper hay sampling procedures are a must.  Today I was brought a sample from a single bale of mixed hay and asked to sort the alfalfa from the grass hay and use those as individual, separate samples.  I was not the only one whose first reaction was, are they planning on sorting it out every time they feed?  (Of course not!) For someone who is very passionate about providing producers with accurate, precise and above all else useful results, this request was difficult to stomach.  No matter what species of animal is being fed, lab results are a useless waste of producer time and lab time if they are not representative of the entire pile of feed or stack of hay.  So, when sampling hay and other forages the goal is to provide WARD Laboratories Inc. with a representative sample.  Here are 5 steps to obtain a representative hay sample:

  1. Define ‘lots’ of feed.

A lot can be one field of the same or a mixed species which has been harvested and bales in one consecutive time frame.  For example, if I had three fields two alfalfa and one mixed alfalfa and grass.  I harvested and baled one alfalfa field, then the mixed field and then a few weeks later finally harvested and baled the second alfalfa field.  I would define 3 separate lots based on species and time of harvesting and baling.

  1. Use a hay probe.

Using a hay probe will ensure samples representative of each bale.  The probe can cut through the side of the bale and take sample from deeper within the bale than a hand grab can.  Additionally, a hay probe does not discriminate against delicate leafy material the way fingers do.  A sample taken with a hand grab will test falsely low in protein and energy as the leafy material, which is high in protein and energy, slips through fingers.

  1. Take a minimum of 20 probes per lot.

If the lot has less than 20 bales, then take one probe per bale.  If more than 20 bales are in a lot take a minimum of 20 samples to represent that lot properly.  The National Forage Testing Association has done research to prove this number of probe samples decreases likelihood of a non-representative sample. When choosing bales to probe it is also important to not leave out ‘bad looking bales’ or intentionally include ‘good looking bales’.  Sample as randomly as possible.  The best possible thing to do is come up with a system to determine which bales to sample and follow it each time you sample a new or different lot.

  1. Split the sample using the cone and quarter method.

Once 20 cored samples are obtained, they will not all fit in a quart sized Ziploc bag. Therefore, the sample must be mixed and split until the sample is small enough to fit in the bag. On a tarp, large newspaper or other clean surface, mix the cores then pile them up into a cone like shape. Divide the cone into 4 quarters discarding two quarters diagonal to each other and repeating the process with the remaining two quarters.  Continue the process until each quarter can fill a quart sized Ziploc bag.  Then send one of those quarters to Ward Laboratories Inc. and save another quarter in a cool dry place.  The saved sample may come in handy if the original gets lost in the mail, or a resample is needed for some reason.

  1. Send the sample to Ward Laboratories Inc.

When placing the sample in an envelope or mailer, be sure to include your name, address, phone number.  Write the test on the sample bag or call into be sure you receive the information you want on your report.  Remember, if a result looks suspicious, Ward Laboratories Inc. will rerun tests to ensure accuracy upon request.

 

For further information on representative hay testing or to become a certified sampler check out foragetesting.org.  Here is a infomative video by Dr. Mary Drewnoski, currently a Beef Systems Specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

 

 

6 Nutritional Strategies to Alleviate Heat Stress in Beef Cattle

Summer has arrived! For most that means backyard BBQs, boating, fishing, mowing the lawn and enjoying the sunshine, but for livestock producers heat stress is something they face each year.  Cattle not well equipped to handle heat stress and are usually grazing or in a feedlot during this time of year.  Unlike swine and poultry who are housed in a more controlled indoor environment with fans and sprinklers to help keep them cool.  Cattle sweat and pant to combat heat stress.  However, they only sweat 10% as much as humans do and depend mainly on respiration to cool themselves in the hot summer months.  As heat stress increases, feed intake levels decrease and thereby so does performance during those hot spells.  Here are 6 ways producers can adjust their diet to help alleviate heat stress:

1.Replace low quality roughages and grains with high quality forages.

This may decrease the energy density of the diet which has been shown to alleviate so of the heat stress factor on the cattle. The heat increment of digestion is higher when consuming feeds high in fiber.  Feeding high quality forages can reduce this extra feed source of heat.  However, be cautious not to choose a forage without enough fiber as that will result in poor rumen health and potential acidosis or bloat.  Look for a forage that is low in ADF and has at least 20% NDF.

2. Add buffers such as sodium bicarbonate to total mixed rations.

If you are going to continue feeding a mixed ration with grains, adding a buffer can reduce the incidence of acidosis. When feed intake has decreased, cattle will sort out the grain and consume little high fiber forage resulting in acidosis.

3. Increase the concentration of minerals and vitamins in the diet.

Three minerals that should specifically be increased as they are lost through perspiration are sodium, potassium, and magnesium which should be fed at a rate of 0.6%, 2.0% and 0.4% of the dry matter content of the diet respectively. Chromium may also have some benefits, however more research is needed on how this micro-mineral may provide some relief from heat stress.  Niacin a B vitamin may also have benefits on cooling the skin, but again there is little research to back up this claim.

4. Add water to dry rations.

If the ration is dry cattle will not want to consume it on a hot day. Just like us on a hot day they would choose a Popsicle over a bowl of dry cereal.  Therefore, a producer may be able to increase feed intake by keeping rations moist and appetizing to the cattle.

5. Provide plenty of cool water.

Never limit water. During a heat wave, animals will consume extra water to keep cool and replace water losses through sweat and respiration.

6. Feed in the evenings.

Animals are not going to want to eat when it is hot out and if they eat in the early morning the heat increment of digestion will coincide with the hottest part of the day, thus adding to the heat stress. By feeding animals in the evening, the temperature may have cooled enough that they will want to consume feed, and the peak heat increment of digestion will occur during the overnight low temperature.

The above are recommended adjustments to make during the summer months when raising beef cattle.  If you graze cattle, be sure to acknowledge that they do most of their grazing at night when it is cool.  So, make sure if you need to move them you wait until the evening when it is not too hot, but not too late as to interfere with their feed intake.  There are other environmental strategies to combat heat stress, and what can be implemented from operation to operation is very different for example providing shade or keeping them in open air flow areas and away from wind breaks.  As always, if you are looking to test forage to replace grain with quality hay or if you need help with the addition of minerals, Ward Laboratories INC. is here to help with those decisions.

It’s Not What You Know It’s Who You Consult

As I was traveling last week to Minnesota for Foss NIR training, I happened to catch an interview with Ray Gaesser, a candidate for the nomination of the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.  Currently, Gaesser is the president of the American Soybean Association.  During the interview Gaesser stated that while he may have held many positions in soybean associations and spent many years farming in Iowa, he does not know all there is to know about agriculture, but he knows someone in each sector of the industry that does know about their area of agriculture.  This idea of not knowing yourself, but having someone to consult describes the culture here at Ward Laboratories Inc.  We have professional staff to consult on a variety of agricultural topics.

ray-ward

Ray Ward is the founder of Ward Laboratories Inc.  He has been consulting with customers since the ’80s and has developed a reputation of providing solid information for the best possible decisions for a farming enterprise.  Dr. Ward is very knowledgeable, with a B.S. and M.S. in Soil Science and a Ph.D. in Plant Science. He advises customers as to best fertilization practices, no-till farming, cover crop use, plant health issues, water testing and monitoring, and more.  Farmers and ranchers often turn to Dr. Ward’s experience and expertise when they encounter an unusual problem or issue.

nick-ward

Nick Ward is the president of Ward Laboratories Inc., he has earned his Ph.D. in Agronomy and is a trusted resource for many local agronomist, and helps customers make planting decisions and solve plant health issues.  Sometimes, people even bring in sick plants and he can help them solve the issue in the login room.  In addition to Dr. Nick Ward, Hannah Gaebel and Terry Buettner are support agronomists and they play a huge role by going out and visiting customers.  Hannah has a Bachelor’s in Agronomy and Terry has been involved in the agriculture industry for about 34 years.

 

 

Emily Shafto has authored a couple blog posts related to soil health.  Farmers and ranchers who are dedicated to taking care of their land from a soil health perspective can consult with either Emily, who has a Master’s Degree in Natural Resources or Lance Gunderson, who is currently working on a Ph.D. in Soil Microbial Ecology.  Both are great resources for help interpreting Haney or PFLA soil analysis results and generally gaining a better understanding of how various farming practices such as tilling or cover crops affects the soil below.

jeremy

Another person who is a huge asset to our lab is our lab manager Jeremy Dalland, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology and then worked his way through the lab from lab tech to his current position.  He is a self-taught resource to all things soil, water, fertilizer, manure, and feed analysis. If you have ever called the lab while I’m out chances are Jeremy helped you with your livestock feeding questions.

me and keno

If you follow this blog, then you know I am the Animal Scientist and I am available to consult on interpretation of feed and NIR samples.  I also help producers solve animal nutrition and health issues.  Mineral issues and sub-clinical illnesses potentially brought on by moldy feeds are common situations producers seek my guidance on.  Helping with diet formulations and supplementation strategies are also topics I commonly discuss with customers.  In addition to earning a Master of Animal Sciences in Ruminant Nutrition and my working experience at the US Meat Animal Research Center, I commonly attend educational meetings and take advantage of extension events.

I am not the only one who attends these events, Dr. Ray Ward, Dr. Nick Ward, Lance, Emily, Hannah, and Terry can often be found staying up to date on current research in their respective field.  Through these meetings and events, our team makes expert contacts and when a producer’s questions are not in our realm of expertise, we can reach out to these experts for the best possible information in our consulting.

As you can see, there is a great deal of knowledge about various sectors of the agriculture industry here at Ward Laboratories Inc.  From Agronomy to Animal Science, if you have a production question or need help with agricultural testing feel free to contact us.  If we don’t know the answer, chances are we know someone who does.

Test Forage Make More Money!

Soon we will be entering forage grazing and harvesting season. Although many producers test their hay or silages when buying and selling, there is still a group who either only test for nitrate when they believe they may be having an issue or do not bother to test at all.  There are many benefits to testing feed, such as improving animal health and production, but a major benefit from a business perspective is the potential to improve profitability.  Testing forages can help producers improve their bottom line.

I have attended several conferences where Dr. Aaron Berger from University of Nebraska Lincoln has spoken about profitability and costs to ranches.  The first point Dr. Berger always drives home is the unit cost of production.  It is important to keep track of all input costs to each enterprise on an operation to know what is profitable and what is losing money.  It is also a helpful tool to see where improvements can be made.  In his presentations, Dr. Berger also points out that the number one cost to produce beef cattle is feed.  Therefore, improvement in feed cost would increase profitability.  This can be done through selecting for cattle that consume less feed and gain the same, sourcing cheaper feed, and precise ration and diet formulations.

Precise ration and diet formulations improve profitability by reducing the occurrence of over or under supplementation to reach animal production goals.  To produce a precise and accurate ration or diet, forage testing must be done, otherwise producers are just guessing about the nutrient content of the forage.  Forages are variable plant material.  As the feed and NIR reviewer at Ward Laboratories Inc., I have seen alfalfa hays and grasses vary from a crude protein level of about 15% to 25% and 4% to 18% on a dry basis respectively.  The fiber content of various forages is also variable.  Acid detergent fiber (ADF) is used to calculate the total digestible nutrients (TDN) of the feed, so variation in ADF affects energy supplementation.  Neutral detergent fiber (NDF) affects how much of a forage or hay the animal will consume.  Minerals are also variable in forages and obtaining an idea of the mineral content may also affect mineral supplementation strategies, such as which mineral to feed or possibly creating a custom mineral mix.  If you would like to learn more about forage variability read Quarrels About Quality: 14 Sources of Variation in Forage and Hay Testing.

Testing hay and forage to formulate rations and diets can reduce underfeeding and overfeeding of animals.  When a producer overestimates the nutritional value of his forage, it can negatively affect the animal’s health.  Thereby impacting performance, reducing reproduction rates, decreasing lactation, or growth.  While the feed cost of an overestimated diet is lower, not meeting the nutritional requirements of that animal results in reduced performance and impacts the producer’s profitability.  An oversetimated nutitional value mresults in less protift. When a producer underestimates the nutritional value of a feed, overfeeding the animals results in increased feed costs and decreased profitability.  Additionally, if overfeeding is extreme, cows can become obese, which also can negatively impact reproductive performance.   In the case of underestimating a forage’s nutritional value, the cost of a NIR forage test ($15) at Ward Laboratories, Inc. is quickly made up in feed costs in just a few days of feeding.

 

So, to improve profitability, at a minimum forage testing is a necessity.  If cattle are grazing a pasture, crop residue, or cover crops, there is variation and a simple NIR test can provide information to make an informed supplementation strategy.  If cattle are consuming a total mixed ration, I would advocate to test all ingredients for the most profitable feeding ration possible with those ingredients.  Using feed testing to make decisions can increase an operations profitability through meeting animal nutrient requirements and therefore performance goals, as well as not wasting feed and money overfeeding animals.

Here are some other resources if you are still doubting the merit in hay testing for profit:

Test, Don’t Guess

The Importance of Forage Testing

Profit Tip: Understanding a Forage Analysis

There’s Money in Testing Your Stalks and Hay

A $50 Hay Test Can Save Producers Money

Carbohydrates and Forage Quality

The function of carbohydrates in any animal’s diet is to provide energy.  Some carbohydrates are more easily digestible and provide energy to the animal, or in the case of the beef cattle, to the rumen microbes more rapidly.  These carbohydrates are Non-Fiber Carbohydrates (NFC). Examples of NFC are starch and sugars, such as glucose and fructose, which are measured at Ward Laboratories Inc. as Total Sugars Invert (TSI).  Starch is also analyzed at Ward Laboratories Inc.  by breaking down the polysaccharide into simple sugars.  An example of a high starch forage is good quality corn silage.  An example of a high sugar forage is high quality alfalfa hay or haylage.

Samples dissolving into buffer on the hot plate with stir bars for starch analysis

 

 

 

Fibrous carbohydrates such as cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin are slowly digested.  In ruminant nutrition the two fiber types we typically use in formulation of feed rations and in evaluation of forage quality are Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) and Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF).  The indigestible and slowly digestible portion of feed is represented by NDF which contains cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin.  The least digestible portion of feed is represented by ADF and contains cellulose and lignin but not hemicellulose.  Therefore, ADF is always less than NDF when represented as a percentage of the feed or forage being analyzed.

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ADF and NDF are measured using Ankom bag technology.

The Neutral Detergent Fiber of a feed makes up the floating mat of feed in the rumen.  This floating mat physically stimulates the animal’s digestive processes, specifically rumination.  A high NDF feed typically forms a mat that exists for a longer period of time in the rumen resulting in the animal feeling full longer due to the physical gut fill and consequently consuming less feed.  In summary, high NDF feeds, typically low-quality forages, are predictive of low dry matter intake, while low NDF feeds are predictive of a higher dry matter intake.

Acid Detergent Fiber is used in predictive equations to calculate the energy content of the feed.  Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN), Net Energy of Gain (NEg) and Net Energy of Maintenance (NEm) can all be calculated using the ADF value.  Feeds with a higher percentage of ADF have a lower percentage of the high energy sugars and starches.  Therefore, high ADF feeds and forages have lower energy values and low ADF feeds and forages have high energy values.

At Ward Laboratories Inc. I receive phone calls inquiring about why certain forage reports have higher Relative Feed Values (RFV) or Relative Forage Qualities (RFQ) than others or why those two index values do not match for the same feed.

Relative Feed Value was created to quickly compare the quality of legume hays such as alfalfa or clover. We often apply this index to other forages, or feeds forgetting the original purpose and loosing the understanding that it was not originally meant to be applied to grass hays, corn stalks and especially not corn grains and other non-forage feeds.  Therefore, non-legume forages typically have lower than expected RFVs and animals consuming this hay perform better than the index value would predict.

Relative Forage Quality was created to be inclusive of most forages and is a quick way to fairly compare one forage to another weather it is a grass hay or legume.  The values for RFV and RFQ on the same feed often are separated by as much as 20 points because RFV uses ADF and NDF to predict digestible dry matter and dry matter intake while RFQ uses crude protein, fat, NDF, NDF digestibility among other factors to predict dry matter intake and total digestible nutrients.  South Dakota State University Extension has put together a great resource for better understanding of RFV and RFQ.  Below are the simplified equations for each index:

RFV = Digestible Dry Matter × Dry Matter Intake / 1.29

RFQ=Dry Matter Intake × Total Digestible Nutrients /1.23

    In conclusion, carbohydrates provide energy to the beef cow and support the growth and role rumen microbes play in ruminant digestion.  The higher percentage of the forage or hay is made up of fibrous fractions, such as ADF and NDF, the less NFC are available to rapidly provide energy.  Therefore, as ADF and NDF increase the forage quality decreases due to lower energy values and declining feed intake.  So, when feeding low quality forages such as old cane hay or corn stalks it is important to provide energy supplements in the form of beet pulp, distillers grains, corn grains or molasses based liquid supplements for example. However, on low ADF and NDF, high quality forages little to no supplementation is needed to support animal maintence and production performance.