Forage Testing is Good Insurance for Cow Herd

October 18, 2010 04:41 AM

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

ISU Extension beef program specialist Beth Doran said the project offers producers a 50-percent cost share per sample for up to three forage samples, and encourages people to participate. Producers interested in participating in the forage testing project 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 said. “This project focuses on hays and silages that have been hampered by wet weather this summer.”

ISU Extension beef veterinarian Grant Dewell said the project was designed to assist producers in managing rain-affected forages when developing cow rations. Appropriate rations can, in turn, help prevent or lessen the incidence of calving problems. For example, research indicates that cows eating hay with less than 10 percent crude protein during the final 60 days of pregnancy averaged 8.5 percent weak calves.
“Energy in the cow diet is important because calves born to thin cows are at higher risk of weak calf syndrome,” Dewell said. “Last spring, the ISU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory noted weak calf syndrome. This refers to a newborn calf that’s weak, and unable or slow to rise, stand or nurse.”

Less than desirable rations can lead to problems for calves and cows, Doran said.

“Calves born to thin cows take longer to stand, and calves born to protein-deficient cows cannot generate body heat as well after birth,” she said. “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 re-breed 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 said. “The goal is a live, healthy calf.”  

The forage testing 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.

IBC was established in 1996 with the goal of supporting the growth and vitality of the state’s beef cattle industry. It comprises faculty and staff from ISU Extension, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine, and works to develop and deliver the latest research-based information regarding the beef cattle industry. For more information about IBC, visit or check out the IBC blog at

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