Producers taking part in the Foraging into the Future Conference were reminded about the importance of feed testing. 

The nutrient content of feed will vary from year to year, field to field, species, climate conditions, fertilization, stage of maturity
when it was cut and processed, as well as storage management.

In order to balance rations for livestock it's key to know exactly what you're working with.

Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist Adriane Good says this is where a feed test can help.

"When we look at feed tests the things you're going to look for are crude protein and energy. There's a lot of different ways energy is measured, probably the easiest one for the average producer is total digestible nutrients (TDN). Then you're going to take a look at vitamins and minerals. Vitamins aren't going to be present on a feed test, but a lot of the minerals are. We just want to make sure we've got enough minerals, but also not too much of some."

She says you can't manage your feed if you don't measure it. 

"You can have some really lucky feed tests, where you find out your hay is way better than you expected. Christmas comes early and you can save your good hay for later and feed less supplements."

She points out that you can also find out that you've got some problems with your hay that you didn't know you had, and work to manage those problems.

"I'd say feed testing is probably one of the more important things you can do for your cows."

Knowing what's in your feed allows you to balance rations and supply the nutrients the animal needs to meet their own requirements as well as maintaining a pregnancy, and growing that fetus.

"I like to remember 7-9-11 for protein. So, we've got 7 per cent protein mid-pregnancy, 9 per cent late pregnancy and 11 per cent in lactating. Then 55-60-65 for TDN (total digestible nutrients) that goes mid-pregnancy to lactating.
Then 14-12-10 for your feeder calves for protein. That 14 per cent is going to be for those little calves up to 800 pounds, 12 per cent in that 800 to 1050 range, and then as they get older closer to finishing, you'll want to drop that protein down a bit to 10 per cent. As for neutral detergent fiber (NDF), you're not going to want to feed more than 1.2 per cent of the cow's body weight. You can sometimes get away with higher, but make sure you're watching for impaction and intake."

Good notes it's important to make sure your feed testing every year so you know what you have to work with.

Producers can also access more information and  tools for evaluating feed test results through the Beef Cattle Research Council.