livestock nutrition

Grain quality and livestock nutrition experts say testing feed can be a good idea for overall nutrition and to avoid toxin issues after a season of wet weather.

To get the most out of feed, livestock producers might want to consider a feed test, University of Missouri Extension swine nutrition specialist Marcia Shannon says. The reason why is pretty straightforward.

“The traditional answer is so you know what you have,” she says.

Tracey Erickson, South Dakota State University Extension dairy field specialist, says with all the wet weather and weather variations in general, it is an especially good year to test feed.

“When we have years where we’ve had a lot of swings, we really encourage producers to test,” she says.

For nutrition, testing can help producers know what they need to build their ration.

“If you follow that over the years, crude protein in corn will vary quite a bit, even within a year,” Shannon says.

Knowing the crude protein and other nutritional aspects of feed can help producers be more efficient and make more money.

Shannon says it can also be a good idea to test for toxins in feed.

“It does vary year to year, and actually it varies in location as well,” she says.

The mycotoxin tests, looking at things like aflatoxin and vomitoxin, are a little more that simple nutrition tests, but Shannon says they are worthwhile, given how toxins can impact performance and even cause animals to abort future offspring.

Shannon says it is a good idea for producers to address their diet formulations regularly.

“I like them always to re-look at their formulation, because what was an issue last year might not be an issue this year,” she says. “I’d advise them to look at their diet formulation every six months.”

Shannon says the fluctuations in corn and soybean prices are another reason it is a good idea to regularly revisit diet plans, to make sure producers are being as efficient as possible. Small differences can add up over time. She says it is also important to get the energy component right.

“If you underfeed energy, they’re going to eat to their energy level, and they’re going to overeat,” she says.

When measuring and mixing feed, getting good readings is important, too.

“Make sure that you’re as accurate as you can be,” she says.

Erickson says it is important to get a good, representative sample of feed.

“When you perform a feed test, analyzing the outcome is only as good as the sample that you take,” she says.

Erickson says to get a representative sample, it can take 10 pounds to generate a 1-pound feed sample. Producers can take sample material from different areas of their feed, mix them together in a 5-gallon bucket, and then take out a 1-pound sample. Use a microwave to dry down the sample if it’s not dry because mold could develop on wet samples after they are sent in, resulting in an inaccurate test result.

Erickson says timing is also important if shipping samples instead of dropping them off.

“I always like to ship my samples on a Monday, not a Friday,” she says.

Erickson says visually inspecting feed is also a good idea.

“Usually, you want to inspect feed for color,” she says. “That can indicate how well it’s been kept and if it’s spoiling. The smell, too.”

A lot of fields were muddy as crops were harvested or silage was chopped, so Erickson says that can increase the amount of “inert matter” and contaminants in the crops and silage piles.

Overall, she says testing feed can help producers with their bottom line.

“I always encourage testing,” she says. “It also allows you to be more efficient with your feedstuffs, putting together your ration. You can be more cost-effective.”

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.