Quarrels About Quality: 14 Sources of Variation in Forage and Hay Testing

When it comes to hay testing, producers commonly grumble about the variation in Relative Feed Value (RFV) and protein content, based on their observations and what the lab reported.

Producers often have these concerns, because the RFV determines the price of a forage and how much customers are willing to pay.  An underestimated RFV can result in decreased profit for forage producers.  A couple weeks ago, I attended the NIRS Consortium annual meeting where Rocky Lemus gave a very informative talk about the importance of proper sampling, which addressed the producer concerns I often hear.  Variation in forage test results can come from in the field, storage, sampling, and in the lab. Here are 14 common sources of variation within a forage sample:

 

  1. The leaf : stem ratio, forages with a higher leaf : stem ratio are typically higher in protein and RFV. This is because the leafy portion of the plant contains more protein than the stems. Additionally, the stems are a structural part of the plant containing higher amounts of fiber.  Acid detergent fiber (ADF) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF) are used to calculate RFV therefore, forages and hays with more leaves and less stems are lower in ADF and NDF and higher in RFV.

 

  1. The weed content of a forage can affect the RFV. Weeds are high fiber plants, so the more weeds contaminating the forage or hay the lower the RFV. Weeds also tend to be lower in protein, thereby also affecting the nutritional content of the forage.

 

  1. Baling conditions can also affect the RFV of a hay. If hay is baled under moist conditions or after having been rained on, the water-soluble sugars have been removed from and plant. The percent of ADF and NDF are increased due to the absence of sugars.  The result is a RFV and lower energy forage.

 

  1. Species of forage also affects RFV. This is not news to hay producers or livestock feeders.  It is well understood that legume forages such as alfalfa and clover are typically higher protein and higher RFV, than grasses.  This is a result of the leaf : stem ratios.

 

  1. The maturity of a plant can also affect the feed value. Older more mature plants are more fibrous, and they typically have a lower RFV than a lush growing forage.                     plant maturity

 

  1. Fertilization can result in higher protein in a forage and lower ADF and NDF. Fertilization management may help produce high quality forages. Be cautious to avoid creating a high nitrate forage by applying too much fertilizer.

 

  1. Proper storage of a baled hay is very important. Reduce ground contact as this will result in accumulation of moisture from the ground and a decreased RFV. Protect your baled hay from the elements to avoid losses of soluble sugars and protein.  Wind and rain alike can remove the leafy portion of the plant thereby decreasing protein and RFV.

 

  1. Division of forages into separate lots can affect the accuracy and representation of a forage sample. Lots should be defined by both species and field from which it was baled. For example:  If there are three fields two alfalfa and one grass, the lots need to be separated by not only species, but also field as one location may have a differing quality that the other based on management, precipitation differences, or topographical differences.  Therefore, I would send three separate hay samples to Ward Laboratories, INC. for NIR testing.

 

  1. Proper sampling procedure is very important. Using a hay probe is the key to ensuring a representative sample. Hay probes can accurately represent the leaf : stem ratio, whereas using a hand grab can result in the leafy portions falling through fingers and obtaining an overrepresentation of stems and a lower RFV.  Additionally, with a hand grab only one layer of the bale can be grabbed and to ensure a representative sample it is important to sample several inches inside the bale.  For more guidelines and to become a certified hay tester visit the National Forage Testing Association.

 

  1. The number of cores taken is another source of variation when testing. The recommendation is to combine 20 randomly selected cores. The difference between taking 20 cores and 10 cores can cause variation in crude protein by up to 5%, meaning taking only 10 cores could either over estimate nutrient values or under estimate them.

 

  1. It is very important to ensure proper treatment of samples in delivery. If the sample is hay, it is typically dry enough to not have cause for concern. If it is a fresh forage clipping, check the moisture, if it is very damp rotting can occur on its way to the lab in just a few days stuffed in a box with other samples or envelopes.  Of course, the portion of the plant that rots first is the leaves, so the RFV decreases when this happens on the way to the lab.

 

  1. Splitting in the lab can also affect RFV. Ward Laboratories, INC. uses the cone and quarter method on all forage samples that come in the lab. It is very important that when the lab splits the sample for the portion to be tested it represents the sub sample given to us.  Sometimes, it is requested to send the sample on to other labs, when this happens, the sample is split into two – three sub samples and the NIR scans are checked to ensure the sub samples nutritional values repeat.  This way we can keep some sample in our lab in case further testing is requested and it is a good way to check that our sub-sampling procedure is accurate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      img_2506-e1517945202593.jpg

 

  1. Drying of the sample in the lab can result in heat damage to the sample therefore again decreasing RFV. Ward Laboratories, INC dries samples in an oven at 64°C before grinding, the typical dry matter after grinding is between 95-97% dry matter. Other labs use microwave ovens for faster drying time, however using a microwave does result in higher incidence of heat damage to samples.

 

  1. Grinding of the sample can also make a difference as to how it scans NIR. Ward Laboratories, Inc. grinds samples through a 1mm screen. More coarse grinding can cause inaccurate results on the NIR instrument.

 

When questioning results of a forage or hay sample, consider all the sources of variation that went into that sample. Sampling plants is tricky business as it is a variable material.  Always do your best to take a representative sample.  Call the lab if you have questions or concerns before taking your sample or interpreting your results.

 

 

 

 

Integrated Systems Agriculture: 4 Benefits of Grazing Cover Crops to Beef Producers

Intensive, specialized crop production has several widely agreed upon downfalls.  These specialized systems tend to have stationary yields with expensive pesticide and herbicide inputs all while profitability is widely dependent on a global market over which we have little control.  Dependence on these practices  leads to higher resistance among  insects  and weeds, reliance on fertilizers due to nutrient depletion  in the soil,  soil erosion and contamination of waterways due to run off, and improper soil management practices. Soil scientists and agronomists agree that the addition of cover crops to a cropping rotation can improve soil quality and health through decreased erosion, increased microbial activity, increased carbon sequestration, more soil aggregates, and increased conservation of moisture in the soil, all due to a more extensive rooting system and ground residue protecting the soil for more months out of the year.  The addition of livestock, most commonly beef cattle, to this rotational cropping system decreases the need for herbicides and fertilizers, as they help deplete the weed seed bank and their manure contains many nutrients vital to plant nutrition and soil health. Guest author, Emily Shafto, covered the benefits to the soil extensively in her blog Cattle and Crops: Completing the Nutrient Cycle.  Here are four benefits of grazing cover crops to cattle producers:

 

  1. Grazing cover crops extends the grazing season, leading to decreased costs of stored feeds.  Supplementation needs are also lessened due to the animal’s ability to preferentially graze to meet their nutritional needs. According to a study by Practical Farmers of Iowa, grazing cover crops can offset winter feed storage costs by up to $40,000. Of course, it is important to mention that labor costs increase, and grazing cover crops requires more intensive management of the land and cattle.  The cost may be offset by the reduced need to cut and bale excessive amounts of hay or corn silage. Feed should still be stored for emergency use, such as a failed cover crop or a stressed crop that has accumulated too much nitrate to graze.

 

  1. Grazing cover crops can improve cattle’s nutritional plane through preferential grazing.  Animals consuming a cover crop mix can choose plant parts such as leaves over stems which are higher in protein and non-fiber carbohydrates and lower in fiber.  Cattle can also choose less mature plants for the same nutritional reasons.  Therefore, by grazing a mix of annual crops, cattle can consume more protein and carbohydrates for performance than a balanced ration of roughages and grain supplements. Therefore, grazing cover crops can improve nutrition and eliminate the cost of ration balancing and mixing.

 

  1. By improving their nutritional plane, animal performance can increase when grazing cover crops.  Growing steers typically have increased feed intake when consuming cover crops as opposed to a mixed ration, which results in increased weight gains.  Heifers and cows on the higher plane of nutrition provided by cover crops can have increased reproductive performance.

 

  1. Grazing cover crops rotationally can have an added benefit of forage regrowth.  When animals graze a paddock for the first time, they open the top canopy and allow sunlight to reach shorter plants.  When the cattle are removed from that section, plant growth is stimulated and if allowed enough time, may recover sufficiently enough to allow the area to be grazed again.   Grazing regrowth is like bonus forage and can also contribute to decreased feed production and storage costs.

 

Integrating cropping systems with forage production and grazing benefits soil health, grazing livestock, and your pocketbook.  Grazing cover crops specifically benefits beef production by extending the grazing season, thereby saving on winter stored feed costs, improving the animals nutritional plane resulting in improved animal performance through increased intake and gains, and bonus regrowth can also be grazed, again saving on winter feed costs.  Don’t forget to take proper precautions before allowing cattle to graze cover crops. See my blog post: 6 Cautions When Grazing Cover Crops. 

Feeding From The Waste Stream

 

The other day I received a phone call from a dairyman who said he was attempting to “Feed from the waste stream” and he sent in two samples.   The first sample was mixed juice pressings, which consisted of a random assortment of spinach, cucumbers, ginger, carrots, apples and more, and the second sample was citrus pulp, also leftovers from juice mainly consisting of orange peels.  He tested these samples for nutritional values.  Both samples had greater than 8% crude protein and both samples were very high in nitrogen free extract meaning they were high in soluble sugars and energy as well.  Showing that these organic human food wastes do have value nutritional value as an animal feed source.  The producer went on to comment on how much his cattle loved these feeds and how affordable these by-product feeds were to him, which lead me to do some more research into the phrase he used “feeding from the waste stream”.  What I found was, the EPA encourages feeding from the waste stream and this practice could be beneficial to food and livestock producers, consumers, and the environment.  There are also added value compounds in some organic wastes which could potentially improve animal health and production. However, there are laws regulating the practice of “feeding leftovers to livestock”.

The United States alone produces 160 billion pounds of food waste per year.  These wastes can range from the leftover juice pressings mentioned above to bakery wastes to expired grocery products.  Typically, this organic waste goes one of three places, a landfill, incineration, or compost.  These options especially, the landfill option, can have detrimental impacts on the environment, therefore the Environmental Protection Agency encourages the use of organic wastes in animal production.  Below is a diagram of the Food Recovery Hierarchy which shows feeding animals as priority after feeding hungry people.

FoodRecovery

Ward Laboratories has also tested samples from Northstar Recycling a company that works to help livestock producers and food packers to recycle organic waste. I will never forget the first sample they sent to us, it was tuna by-product. We received it on a Monday and I can tell you it smelled like it had been in the mail for 3 or 4 days by the time it got to our lab.  Since then, we have received many more pleasant-smelling samples including marshmallows, assorted candies, dough waste, peanut butter, cake and more. With feed being the most expensive cost of production in the livestock industry taking advantage of these cheap waste products could improve profit margins.  Additionally, the livestock industry is constantly battling the consumer perceptions that our animals are competing with humans for grain based feeds and meat is “bad for the environment”, therefore feeding from the waste stream could improve consumer perception of the industry.

Some of the organic waste products, specifically those from leftover fruits and vegetables have value added compounds.  For example, citrus peels have essential oils which have been shown to improve immunity and have a positive effect on production.  One essential oil of interest is D-limonene.  This essential oil has been shown to improve gut microflora balance by increasing beneficial microbial populations and decreasing detrimental microbial populations, and increase feed efficiency of beef cattle and gains in swine.  Another example of value added compounds present in organic wastes is polyphenolic compounds.  These compounds occur at a higher concentration in the seeds, roots, pits, and skins of fruits and vegetables than in the edible portions utilized in human food production. Polyphenols exhibit beneficial properties such as being anti-carcinogenic, anti-pathogenic, anti-oxidative, and immune modulatory. Therefore, in feeding livestock, a producer may see improvements in gut, respiratory, and cardiovascular health in their animals.

There are regulations for feeding food wastes to livestock and the rules that apply are different depending on the source of organic food waste and the species of animal to be fed.  The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was put in place to prevent food-borne illness from occurring at the processing stage of food production. The regulations in the FSMA apply to products from human food production, this would include things like bakery waste, or juice pressings.  The regulations that apply depend on the type of facilities producing and utilizing the food waste. The other two pieces of legislature for feeding food waste to livestock are the Federal Swine Health Protecting Act (SHPA) and the Ruminant Feed Ban Rule.  Put simply, the SHPA states that food scraps containing animal products must be heat treated to kill disease causing bacteria and prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease.  The Ruminant Feed Ban prohibits the feeding of mammalian proteins back to ruminants to prevent Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) also known as mad cow disease.  States may also have their own rules and regulations regarding feeding food by-products to livestock.

In conclusion, there is an abundance of organic food waste products.  Their utilization as livestock feed is good for the environment, profitable for the producer, and if we tell this story can improve consumer perceptions of our industries. Some of the fruit and vegetable waste products are not only nutritionally beneficial to animals but also contain compounds which can improve production value and animal health.  If a producer is interested in “feeding from the waste stream” they should do their research, test their feeds for nutritional values to ensure they are meeting animal nutrient requirements and be aware that it is a regulated practice. Below are some additional links for further reading on this topic.

Fruit and Vegetable Wastes as Livestock Feed

NORTHSTAR RECYCLING TRASH TALK BLOG

Leftovers for Livestock

 

 

Feeding Fido: Is Kibble Still Okay? 8 counter points to the agenda against formulated pet food

Circulating Video Against “Kibble”

The link above is to a video that has been circulating the internet.  It captured my attention as it uses scare tactics to keep pet owners from feeding a balanced pet food (aka kibble) as the main source of nutrition.   I feed my fur baby (Angel pictured above) dry dog food formulated for her physiological state with the addition of plenty of treats and even some human foods which all can be a part of a healthy nutritious diet.  Additionally, Ward Laboratories Inc.  participates in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) proficiency program and therefore, pet food and pet food ingredients are tested in our laboratory.   Here are my 8 points of rebuttal to the above video link:

 

  1. Dry dog foods have been formulated for dogs in all stages of life at varying physiological states. Therefore, it should not be assumed that pet owners buy one form of “kibble” and feed it without variation through-out the pet’s entire lifetime.  Many pet owners will change dog food from different life stages and include treats as a routine addition in their pet’s entire diet.  Read the AAFCO statement which qualifies the products as balanced and complete either through feeding trials or laboratory testing of the feed to ensure the nutrient values are in line with an already approved product.

 

  1. The trendy RAW diet for pet food has a higher incidence of food borne illness. Salmonella and Listeria are just two examples of microbial pathogens more likely to be found on raw pet food than dry kibble or canned wet food. These food-borne pathogens also are zoonotic and therefore, can affect the entire family if say mom feeds Fido and then prepares dinner for the rest of the family.

 

  1. In this video, using “run off” from the human food industry is touted as sub-standard. I beg to differ. Using organic waste from human food facilities ensures the products are strictly analyzed to ensure food safety and hazard prevention prior to being processed into dog or cat food.  Additionally, these ingredients are regulated under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), further improving the safety of your pet’s food.  Organic waste often includes certain parts of various food products such as cull carrots, pea shells, beef liver or tongues. Just because they don’t fit our consumer aesthetics and taste preferences does not mean they have no nutritional value. For convenience, these organic materials are processed into dry pellets for storage safety and easy distribution to our four-legged friends.  By utilizing organic waste from human food processing plants, the cost of pet food manufacturing is lower, making good quality food more affordable for the consumer while preventing those materials from falling into landfills, a definite bonus for the environment.

 

  1. The video above suggests that making your own pet food at home is the best alternative to kibble or dry pet food. This will result in mineral and vitamin deficiencies in your pet unless you have a background in animal nutrition. Complete and balanced diets are precisely formulated based on the species and physiological state of the pet. If specific nutrients are not provided, these deficiencies will affect your fur baby’s health. It is not as simple as frying some hamburger and adding some rice to the mix.  Vitamin and mineral supplements will need to be added at the right concentrations to meet the animal’s requirements without causing a potential toxicity.  Pet food companies spend a lot of money to employ educated professionals to formulate good, wholesome products for your pets.

 

  1. Dogs and cats are not just carnivores. They are domesticated species, which have evolved from hunting their own food and consuming an all meat diet to begging for scraps from our diet.  Contrary to the indications in the video, an all meat diet can be hard on your pet’s health, especially the kidneys. Pets on all meat diets can form painful kidney stones due to calcium and phosphorous imbalance. An all meat diet will also contain a deficiency of readily available carbohydrates, which are a necessary energy source for animals.

 

  1. Yes, misguiding labels are an issue. A well-educated consumer should be aware that labeled ingredients are often the result of splitting.  Some pet food labels will split plant ingredients for example, ground rice, rice flower, and rice bran, so that a meat ingredient can appear first on the ingredient list.

 

  1. To expect an industrialized manufacturing industry of any sort to never have a recall is over the top. Recalls on human food products are just as common as recalls on pet food.  The last one I can remember that affected how I grocery shopped was a recall on Sabra humus, but it passed, and I still enjoy a healthy snack of carrot sticks and humus from time to time.  Additionally, there are recalls on both “kibble” and raw pet foods, which is considered a better pet food option in the video.

 

  1. The video concludes by stating that if you cannot pronounce a specific ingredient on the label, you should not be feeding it to your pet. I strongly disagree. Unless you have a strong background in chemistry, natural and synthetic mineral compounds added to pet food are difficult to pronounce, however the ingredient itself is serving a purpose: to meet your pet’s requirements for specific minerals. Below, I have inserted a photo example of an ingredients list you may find on a dry dog food label. One ingredient that may be difficult to pronounce but is stands out to me as hard to say and nutritionally important is Ferrous Sulfate.  Ferrous Sulfate will provide your pet with required iron and sulfur in a complete and balanced diet.
ingredients
http://www.dummies.com/pets/dogs/how-to-read-a-dog-food-label/

Videos and articles that circulate the internet should always be closely scrutinized. Pet food manufacturers test ingredients as well as final products to ensure the formulated kibble is both safe and nutritious for pets.  There are many options if you prefer to go grain free to avoid pet allergies or you are looking to increase omega fatty acids to improve your pets coat. It is up to you as a consumer to read ingredients lists, AAFCO statements, and guaranteed analysis to determine the best food to fit your furry friend. If you doubt a pet food’s nutritional value, you can always send a sample to the lab to check it against its guaranteed analysis.

If you are interested in learning more about feeding a safe and nutritious diet to your pet, check out the resources below.

paleo-or-mcdonalds-choosing-a-diet-for-your-pet

how-safe-is-pet-food-likely-safer-than-yours

FDA Pet Food Labels

FDA Pet Food Literacy 

Nutritent Requirements of Dogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Considerations of Water Quality for Beef Cattle

Typically, livestock water access and quality are considered during the summer months when heat stress is a concern.  I am choosing to address this topic during the cold winter months because as the temperature drops, below the thermal neutral zone animals consume more feed to increase metabolic heat production and water intake requirements increase with feed intake.  Water is often an overlooked nutrient during the winter months although access to quality water is important for maximum health and production.  Additionally, I have received a concerning inquiry regarding adding salt to water to keep it thawed during the winter months.  This could have deleterious effects on animal health. If a high salt water is provided with no alternate fresh water source, it could eventually lead to the animal’s death.  It is important to remember that water serves many functions in the mammalian body including making up 70% of the body’s mass, regulating temperature, growth, reproduction, lactation, digestion, metabolism, and many other functions we typically take for granted to function properly.  Therefore, access to quality water is important throughout all seasons, including the winter months.  Cattle can substitute snow if water availability is sparse but, access to quality water promotes maximum growth and reproductive performance.  Cattle are not particularly fond of cold water and therefore, while they can use snow in place of water, they prefer a heated water tank. Below are 4 items to examine when determining water quality:

  1. Total Dissolved Solubles (TDS).

This measures the minerals broken down within the water. Sodium chloride (NaCl), bicarbonate (HCO3­), sodium sulfate (Na2SO4), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) are some of the common solubles present in water.  Less than 1000 ppm TDS indicates safe water and will not cause any animal health concerns.  If the TDS is greater than 1000 ppm then further guidelines found in either the Ward Guide page 148  (http://wardlab.com/download/WardGuide.pdf) or Table 9-2 of Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle 8th revised edition page 156 should be referenced for Total Soluble Salts (TSS) guidelines

  1. Nitrate.

Health risks including abortion can occur in cattle drinking greater than 133 ppm NO3-N over long periods of time.  Nitrate poisoning and death can result from cattle consuming water greater than 221 ppm NO3-N.

  1. Sulfates.

High sulfate water can result in health risks from diarrhea to Polioencephalomalacia (PEM), a disruption in thiamin metabolism resulting in a neurological disorder.  It is recommended that calves are provided with water less than 500 ppm sulfate and mature beef cattle are provided with water less than 1000 ppm sulfate.

  1. Contaminants.

Other compounds can be found in water which are detrimental to cattle health. Below is listed common contaminants Ward Laboratories, Inc. tests for, but we are always happy to send samples out to other labs if you suspect another compound may be causing issues.  We commonly send out for selenium and lead.

Contaminant Toxic level (ppm)
Aluminum 0.5
Boron 5.0
Copper 1.0
Fluoride 2.0
Manganese 0.05
Zinc 5.0

 

In conclusion, it is important to provide quality water low in soluble salts, nitrates, sulfates and other contaminants to cattle in order to maximize production performance and ensure healthy animals.  Addition of salts to beef cattle water to keep it thawed during the winter months can increase the TDS thereby, having negative effects on cattle performance and health.  If you are struggling with keeping waterers thawed, remember cattle can substitute snow for water when necessary, and options such as heated tanks should be considered. If you are really struggling and need to get creative, put a salt water solution in water bottles and allow them to float at the top to prevent ice formation.

 

Cattle and Crops: Completing the Nutrient Cycle

How many of us producers have a shovel in our pickup? When was the last time we used that shovel to thoroughly examine our soil?  Are we able to determine what a truly healthy soil looks like? Grab a shovel and take a look at your soil. Check out your soil profile. Does the shovel easily enter the ground? Is there a cottage cheese like structure? Is there a nice, deep rich brown color to your soil? Is the soil easily crumbled in your hand? All of these characteristics indicate a healthy soil. If you answered no to any of these questions, a look into your soil’s health may be just what you need.

Soil health has become a buzzword in agriculture. It is used as a way of understanding the impacts we have on the living soil ecosystem. The five principles of soil health are: cover the soil, minimize soil disturbance, create a diverse plant population, maintain continuous living roots and integrate livestock to complete the nutrient cycle and promote a healthy soil ecosystem. Highly disturbed soils with low organic matter, high weed pressure, poor soil structure and poor soil drainage are only a few symptoms of a “sick” soil. Continued interest in influences that impact soil biology, an important link to the physical and chemical characteristics of soils, have led to the reduction of tillage, fertilizer and pesticide use, thus reducing producers’ input costs.

Soil health also relates to the crops we choose to grow. When a plant is growing, it harvests energy from the sun and converts it into simple sugars for plant growth. As the nutrients begin to deplete around the root zone, the plant roots begin growing towards nutrients in the soil. The roots cannot grow quickly enough to harvest adequate nutrients for continued growth. They release simple sugar based compounds called root exudates that gather a microbial community that will help harvest nutrients from the soil. As microbial communities grow and expand, they release “super glues” in the soil that promote soil aggregation. Aggregation not only acts as a home for microbes but also creates channels that promote water infiltration and increases the soils’ ability to retain water.

Furthermore, root growth density, structure and depth are plant dependent, so care should be taken when deciding what to plant. Cover crops can be excellent nitrogen scavengers, soil builders, erosion preventers, weed suppressors and forage sources. As interest in cover crops continues, it is important to realize that although there are numerous benefits to keeping a living plant on your ground, each plant species can have harmful characteristics. Certain species may be better at suppressing undesirable weeds than others. Some species may become hosts to harmful pests. For example, cereal rye is a popular, fast growing cover that has the ability to reduce soil-borne diseases, nematodes and weeds, but it does not control weedy grasses and can increase cut worms and wire worms. Thus, rye would not be the most suitable cover to plant prior to grass crops such as corn, sweet corn, sorghum or wheat. Multispecies cover crops not only provide a variety of benefits, but helps fill gaps or mitigate the weaknesses of monoculture cover crops. Multispecies cover crops mimic nature, which uses a wide variety of plant species to maintain an effective system. Selecting the correct mix of cover crops for your production will take time, research and trial and error. A cover crop that is ideal for one producer may not be the best for another, so it is important to select cover crops that grow well in your area and meet you own soil health goals.

Producer oriented conferences, such as the Western Canada Soil Health and Grazing Conference we recently attended, can aid producers in forming a plan of action for their soils as well as start a conversation with local producers as to what management practices have worked well for them. While at the conference, producers and researchers alike shared principle ideas about incorporating cattle and cover crops into a cropping system. This approach has created healthier soils and a more cost-effective feed source for livestock. So, what happens to the soil when cattle graze?

Cover crops can provide a mixed culture forage for cattle to gain key macronutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats. In exchange for the plant’s nutrients, manure and urine left behind provide a source of new microbes and new organic matter for plants and existing microbes. Addition of new microbes often signals to prevailing microbes that a new source of nutrients is available for consumption and use. This process feeds the continued growth of plants and completes the nutrient cycle.

But it doesn’t end there. An animal feeding on the plant also impacts its root growth. When cattle feed on plants, they trigger a survival response in plants that requires the plant to decide which roots best support the continued survival of the plant. The other roots are abandoned, but still serve as a home and food source for the microbial community. As the abandoned roots degrade, the tunnels left by the roots increases the soil’s water infiltration rate and improves the soil for macrofauna such as earthworms and arthropods. As the plant recovers, roots will resume growing normally and further improve soil structure.

The use of cattle and cover crops in agriculture operations provide the link to completing the nutrient cycle in the soil. The strong root systems of multispecies cover crop mixes provide numerous benefits to soil microbial communities and positively influence soil structure. These mixes can provide nutrients to cattle who in turn return nutrients to the soil. Successful implementation of management practices by well-known regenerative farmers such as Gabe Brown and David Brandt are excellent examples of soil health practices but should not be viewed as the silver bullet to healthier soils. Instead, their principles and view of soil management in a holistic manner can provide helpful guidelines to producers interested in improving their soil. Soils, like people, differ greatly and will require different strategies to strengthen them. So, grab your shovel. Get down. Get dirty. And get to know your soil.

2017 KSU Swine Day

A couple of weeks ago I attended Swine Day for the second year in a row.  This event is a great way to remain informed on the latest in swine nutrition research. I would recommend attending for anyone involved in the swine industry.  It is also very interesting to see what the researchers are doing with all of the feed samples that go through Ward Laboratories, INC from the Kansas State University Swine Laboratory. The morning session consisted of quick 15 minute research updates on the projects in Manhattan, KS and with KSU cooperators.  Two presentations that specifically caught my attention were the feed safety presentation by Dr. Cassie Jones and the Limonene presentation by Dr. Jim Nelssen. Finally, I would be doing a disservice to the lab if I did not highlight Dr. Chad Paulk’s presentation on sampling technique from feeders.

I often field phone calls from producers wanting to test for mycotoxins. These toxins are produced from specific strains of mold under certain conditions and often appear together.  At Ward Laboratories, Inc., we only test for Aflatoxin, but always help people find a lab to test with if they would like to test other mycotoxins.  Dr. Jones’ presentation focused on what we can do with contaminated feeds specifically corn grain and how some of our common practices to reduce shrink in feed mills may be contributing to mycotoxin contamination of feeds.  Mycotoxin producing molds often thrive on broken kernels of corn.  Therefore, Dr. Jones analyzed the effect of cleaning corn or separating the broken kernels from the intact kernels on mycotoxin contamination.  She found that cleaning the corn kernels decreased aflatoxin by 26% and fumonisin by 45% in the cleanings.  However, the screenings were concentrated with aflatoxin.  Often these screenings are added back to other feeds to decrease shrinkage in the feed mill.  Thus, hitting home the point that maybe a little shrinkage could be acceptable when taking into account the potential negative effects on animal health. A summary of this research can be found on page 54 of the 2017 Swine Day publication.

In the livestock industry across all species, consumers are driving increasing demand for antibiotic free products in supermarkets.  Therefore, finding alternatives to antimicrobial products that boost performance in a comparable way is a lucrative research goal.  According to Dr. Nelssen, antibiotic alternatives represent a $20 million global industry across all species and, in swine the cost of going antibiotic free is $20.68 / pig due to decreased growth rate.  Therefore, his research compared average daily gain (ADG) in weaned pigs given feed four different feed treatments 1) Carbodox, an antibiotic fed for increased performance, 2) increased concentrations of copper and zinc, 3) the essential oil Limonene 4) a negative control diet.  Limonene is already an approved product (Victus LIV) to replace Tylosin in beef cattle.  The results of his study show that pigs supplemented with copper and zinc together or Limonene had higher ADG than the negative control diet and performed comparably with pigs supplemented with Carbodox.  A summary of this research can be found on page 31 of the 2017 Swine Day Publication.

Many producers who want to sample their feed are often unsure of how to take an accurate and representative sample.  For Hay samples I always refer them to the National Forage Testing Association guidelines, however for swine mixed feeds I have a hard time with a resource to direct them toward.  Dr. Chad Paulk’s presentation focused on quality control in feeds testing.  First, he compared probe samples to hand samples and found that the probe decreases variability among samples.  Then, Dr. Paulk compared sampling individual feeders with taking a composite sample and determined that the composite sample also decreased variability.  Additionally, the results showed that using a probe and a composite sample together reduced the number of samples needed to ensure an accurate result. Dr. Paulk’s final recommendation when taking a mixed feed sample from a feeder is:

  1. Utilize a probe
  2. Take 6 samples from 6 different feeders
  3. Combine those samples for one composite sample

A summary of this research can be found on page 55 of the 2017 Swine Day Publication.

Here just three topics covered of many in this year’s Swine Day at KSU have been highlighted.  I would encourage all involved in this ever changing industry to attend this event in the future and check out the information they have made available through the links I have included below. As for those of you looking to take a feed sample, don’t overlook the importance of an accurate representative sample.  Consider taking advantage of the technique outlined above.

Presentations: https://www.asi.k-state.edu/events/swine-day/presentations.html

Publications: http://newprairiepress.org/kaesrr/vol3/iss7/