Use a Sharp Pencil for Protein and Profits

Last week, I attended the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory 19th Annual Open House.  There, agricultural economist Jim Robb touched on the hardships of the drought and forage and pasture availability but drove home the importance of affordable protein supplementation.

Jim Robb showed that corn prices have remained steady and are projected to continue along that trend.  Dried distillers’ grains (DDG), which have become increasingly common as an on pasture protein supplementation, are projected to increase in price in the coming year.  The average protein content of DDGS is about 30% on a dry basis.  Robb, then went on to point out that the price of whole soybeans has decreased with the trade and tariff turmoil leaving soybean meal (SBM) overpriced. Robb suggested that this showed SBM will likely decrease in price making it a more affordable option for protein supplementation.  The average protein content of whole soybeans is 40% on a dry basis.  The protein content of SBM can range from 53-45% on a dry basis depending on processing technique.  In southern states such as Texas and Oklahoma where the cotton crop was large this year, producers have already began feeding whole cotton seeds and cotton seed meal as a cheaper available option for protein supplementation.  The crude protein content of whole cotton seeds and cotton seed meal is about 23% and  45% protein on a dry basis respectively. Robb expects these cotton sources will be shipped and available further north soon.

Jim Robb advised producers to put a sharp pencil to paper when determining their protein supplementation programs for the winter this year.  Not only does this include comparing the prices of each available feed, but the nutrients as well.  To determine the most profitable scheme, producers should test their forage sources.  Using the nutritional information from the forage report and the extimated dry matter intake for the class of animal to be fed, compare the amount available protein supplements needs as it will vary due to differences in protein content as well as the overall price to supplement. Choose the cheapest possible option and avoid over or under supplementation.  Ward Laboratories Inc. can assist with all your forage and supplemental feed testing needs and questions in the coming months.  Testing forages to determine supplementation strategies typical results in more profit.

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:

 

 

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.