For less than $7, a cow-calf producer may be able to stave off a variety of potential problems in his or her cow herd. That’s what a producer would pay for a sample tested as part of a forage-testing project spearheaded by the Iowa Beef Center (IBC) at Iowa State University (ISU).

The project offers producers a 50% cost share per sample for up to three forage samples, says ISU Extension beef program specialist Beth Doran. She encourages people to participate. Those who are interested, or who have questions, should contact their local county Extension office or ISU beef program specialist.

“This may be the cheapest insurance you’ll ever buy,” Doran says. “This project focuses on hays and silages that have been hampered by wet weather this summer.”

The project was designed to help producers manage rain-affected forages when developing cow rations, says ISU Extension beef veterinarian Grant Dewell. Appropriate rations can help prevent or lessen the number of calving problems while less-than-desirable rations can lead to problems for calves and cows, Doran adds. Cows that eat hay with less than 10% crude protein during the final 60 days of pregnancy have weak calves 8.5% of the time, according to research.

“Energy in the cow diet is important because calves born to thin cows are at higher risk of weak-calf syndrome,” Dewell says. Weak-calf syndrome refers to a newborn calf that’s weak and unable or slow to rise, stand or nurse.

“Calves born to thin cows take longer to stand, and calves born to protein-deficient cows cannot generate body heat as well after birth,” Doran explains. “Colostrum production in a thin cow is reduced, and immunoglobulins, which play a big role in the immunity of the calf, are reduced. In addition, thin cows may not conceive or are slow to rebreed and wean a calf seven to eight months later.”

The forage-testing project will provide both protein and energy analyses. “We want to help producers have their cows and heifers in body condition scores of 5 and 6, respectively, at calving,” Doran says. “The goal is a live, healthy calf.”

The project is cooperatively sponsored by IBC, the Grass Based Livestock Working Group from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Forage and Grassland Council, and the Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee.