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Rumenco livestock feeds - Rumevite, Lifeline, SUPAlyx, Beetlic

UNDERSTANDING FORAGE QUALITY

In this month’s ruminant nutrition article, Rumenco technical manager David
Thornton discusses the importance of forage nutritional analysis and how
matching the correct supplement to what is missing in your hay or silage can
actually save you money.

Every year hundreds of livestock farmers submit thousands of forage samples for
testing, but how many actually act on the results they receive from the laboratory?
Unfortunately, relatively few farmers interpret forage analyses fully or use the results to
change feeding strategies.

Balanced nutrition is important for efficient livestock protection. Daily nutrient
requirements vary depending on the phase of production, so knowing the nutrient
composition of feeds and forages and matching them to animal needs at a given stage
of production will ensure that nutritional requirements are fulfilled. Forage analysis is a
management tool that provides the information needed for proper livestock nutrition. If
you really want to make a difference to the bottom line, it really does pay to get to know
your forage.

Laboratory testing of forages for nutrient/mineral content and digestion characteristics is
an important first step in the process of formulating cost-effective livestock rations. In
recent years, there have been numerous changes in forage analysis by commercial
testing laboratories. These changes are sometimes difficult to understand and apply at a
practical level. As a result, modern forage test reports might sometimes yield more
questions than answers.

However, the use of free-access nutritional supplements – such as Rumevite feed blocks
or Supalyx buckets – can help enormously by allowing the cow or sheep to determine its
own intake, rather than having to eat a rationed concentrate. In practice, an animal
consumes more supplement when forage quality is poor compared with when it is good.
So intake varies with pasture, hay or silage quality – which is very useful, particularly
with systems based on baled silage. The end result by using ad lib feed blocks or
buckets is actually a more even performance within a group of animals compared with
restricted trough feeding of concentrates.

Mineral Nutrition
Farmers are also encouraged to get their conserved forages and grazing tested for
minerals these days. Results gathered from many previous forage samples tested
across northern England and the Scottish Borders indicate problems in trace element
content – particularly copper (antagonised by high iron, sulphur and molybdenum
contents), selenium and iodine. Using mineral buckets and blocks to balance a ration is
just as important as making sure dietary energy and protein levels are correct. And only
a forage analysis can tell you what is deficient (or in excess) in order to make a better
informed choice of supplement.

Different forages have different mineral analyses but, in addition, soil type and fertiliser
regime can also influence mineral make-up within forage categories. The message is:
know what you are feeding and then choose your supplement accordingly, selecting only
mineral products that address any local deficiency problems.

Grassland improvement, increasing dependence on forages or the introduction of
unusual ration ingredients can often change the dietary balance quite markedly. For
example, greater use of alternative forages such as brassicas and clovers are likely
throw up even more mineral deficits than traditional grazing or conserved forage. On the
other hand, the increasingly popular forage chicory is actually very rich in minerals –
apart from manganese – so some farms may be able to reduce their level of
supplementary minerals, saving money in the process.

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