The Iowa Beef Center (IBC) and Iowa State University (ISU) Extension beef specialists are encouraging producers to take advantage of a cost-share forage testing project.

Denise Schwab, ISU Extension beef program specialist who’s helping lead the project, says producers who are uncertain about participating in the project should ask themselves a few questions starting with, “What’s the cost-benefit ratio of testing the 2010 hay crop?”

“The testing is simple and the cost is low,” says Schwab. “Through the IBC project, your share is just $6.19 thanks to sponsorship of the Grass Based Livestock Working Group of the Leopold Center, the Iowa Forage and Grassland Council and the Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee. “The benefits are: You’re able to better meet the nutritional needs of your cow herd while controlling feed costs and waste.”

If producers still aren’t convinced, Schwab suggested that a more important question might be, “What is the cost if you DON’T test your forages?”

She looked at results from early project samples and found that about half of the hay samples had inadequate energy to maintain a late-gestation cow, and about 20% were inadequate in protein.

“A mature 1,350-lb beef cow eating 30-plus pounds of hay per day at these levels would actually be losing 1½ lbs/day, or half of a body condition score per month during late gestation,” Schwab says. “That’s definitely not what you want to see in your cows.”

Ramifications of a herd losing 1.5-2 body condition scores (BCS) between now and calving are costly in several ways.

“Cows that are too thin at calving typically have a higher incidence of calving difficulty and weaker calves at birth. Also, their calves tend to have lower weaning weights,” she says. “Thin cows also produce lower volumes of colostrum with lower levels of immunoglobulins than cows in a body condition score of 5 or 6, and their calves have a lower resistance to disease.

“Finally, cows that have a body condition score below 5 at calving have a slower return to estrus, resulting in later calves in following years. Just two-thirds of cows at a BCS of 4 at time of calving are cycling 90 days after calving.”

Knowing the composition of your hay is vital in making decisions that will meet the nutrition needs of your herd and in turn, have a more positive effect in your operation, says Schwab. At less than $7/sample as part of this project, forage testing is an inexpensive investment in the health of your herd.

Read more about the forage-testing project.