Forage producers who want the best silage, hay or grazing
should remember that quality and nutritive value are related, but not
necessarily the same thing, says a Texas Cooperative extension specialist.
"Nutritive value is what we read in the lab analysis," says Larry
Redmon, extension forage program leader. "Forage quality encompasses nutritive value, but goes a step further to include the livestock component.
"Do they prefer it over other feed? Is their intake good? Do they gain well on this feed? These three things are the livestock component of forage quality."
The "official" nutritive value from a lab analysis can affect market
value and livestock performance, he says. As managers, forage producers have more control over nutritive value than over quality.
"There are three ways we can affect nutritive value," Redmon says. "We can choose a different forage. We can change our soil nutrient status. Or we can harvest our chosen forage at a different growth stage.”
"If we rate them for digestibility, from top to bottom, legumes are No. 1, cool-season annuals are second, cool-season perennials are third, warm-season annuals are fourth, and warm-season perennials come in fifth," Redmon says.
Nitrogen is the No. 1 soil nutrient in the forage nutrition equation,
he says. It enables plant growth and production of amino acids that help determine crude protein.
Harvest when the forage is young to yield the highest nutritive
value, Redmon says. “As a forage matures, the good 'tasty' components in the plant cells shrink because the cell walls thicken to support the plant as it grows."
"The most important thing we can do to preserve quality and nutritive value after cutting and curing is put it in the barn," he says. “A good hay barn will pay for itself in three to five years by protecting your forage from the elements."
A laboratory analysis that confirms nutritive value is also a good
marketing tool, he says. Labs typically analyze forages for crude protein, net energy, fiber digestibility and vitamin/mineral content.