Part 6: Body Conditioning Score Series: Measuring Forage Quality
The expression “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” very accurately describes managing forage quality on cow-calf operations. Forage quality is measured through performing forage quality testing. Whether you feed dry hay or baleage, or some other form of stored forage, regularly performing forage quality testing is just as important as actually harvesting the forage. Not all hay is created equal, therefore understanding the quality of the hay you have helps you determine what supplement may be needed when hay alone is unable to meet the nutritional needs of the cow. Table 1 below provides the explanations for some of the common components included in a forage analysis report:
Probably the single most important management intervention that can be done to ensure high quality forage is harvesting the forage on time. For most perennial and annual grasses, this means cutting the forage in the boot or pre-head stage. This ensures the forage provides adequate volume, but has not created a seed head yet and become mature. When forages become mature and develop a seed head, the structural components of the plant elevate NDF and ADF, making the forage less digestible and lower in energy. We will further explore nutritional components of forage-based diets essential to maintaining appropriate BCS in subsequent articles.
Additional Information on forage analysis reports can be found at the following links: