5. The Importance of Feed & Water Testing

Many producers make it a practice to test their feed every year and many either don’t get around to it or have decided they don’t need to anymore because they have seen similar results for several years. However, in order to insure proper nutrition in your cow herd and to be cost effective, regular feed testing is just good a good management practice.

The protein, energy, and mineral composition in forage samples can vary and change from year to year. For example, in the winter of 2012-13 in central Alberta, there have been prevalent cases of downer cows that appear to have milk fever. A wet summer & late harvest have produced calcium and magnesium levels about 25% less than average in feeds and higher fiber levels have resulted in lower feed intake. Many producers being unaware of that have seen cows in poor body condition and have had additional costs of treating affected animals when an adjusted mineral program would have adjusted for the deficiencies and cost pennies to fix.

Protein, and energy (expressed as TDN) as well as the macro minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sulphur & sodium) are more often variable from year to year so should be tested annually. The micro minerals such as Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Selenium, and others tend to see less variation so testing every 5 years may be more cost effective.

Often overlooked is the mineral content of the water consumed by cattle. A  1200 lb. cow will consume about 55 litres (12 Gal.) of water per day. For example, if water contains high sulphates, the sulphur requirement is met without supplemental sulphur. More importantly, excess minerals can affect the availability and uptake of other elements. High iron can affect Phosphorus availability and high phosphate can limit calcium availability to name just two.

A complete feed test will cost $70-$100 per sample and a protein, energy; macro mineral test will be about $40 and should be done using “wet chemistry” as the NIR testing method is not as accurate. Feed water tests will cost about $100. Your nutrition consultant will use these to formulate a cost effective mineral program to address the challenges of your individual operation and correct production problems such as poor breed back, retained placenta and other calving related problems, or herd health.

*For more information, please contact Craig at (403)-894-3147

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