Helpful Forage Information
- The ultimate measure of forage quality is animal performance.
- Factors having the greatest impact on forage quality are forage species, stage of maturity at harvest, and (if forage is mechanically harvested) harvesting and storage techniques.
- Forage quality varies greatly among and within forage crops, and nutritional needs vary among and within animal classes and species. Knowing forage quality and animal nutritional needs is necessary to formulate rations that result in desired animal performance.
- Leaves are higher in quality than stems; young stems are higher in quality than old stems; and green leaves are higher in quality than dead leaves. In most cases, higher quality is also associated with legumes as compared to grasses; and with cool-season plants as compared to warm-season plants.
- Rain during field drying damages legume hay more than grass hay. Also, the dryer the hay when rain occurs, the greater the damage. However, delayed harvest due to concern about rain probably results in more forage quality loss than does rain damage.
- Fertilizing with nitrogen generally increases the crude protein level of grasses, but fertilization usually has little or no effect on the digestible energy of forage.
- Sensory evaluation of forage provides important information, but laboratory testing is required to formulate rations.
- A laboratory analysis uses only a few grams of material to represent tons of forage. Therefore, sampling technique is extremely important.
- The numbers provided on a forage test report are valuable but not absolute. Reported results vary somewhat due to differences within a hay lot (or other feed material sampled), sampling technique, and laboratory procedures.
- Whle protein and minerals can limit animal performance, digestible energy is more likely to be the limiting factor from forage.
- The more mature and fibrous (lower in quality) a forage, the longer it takes to be digested and the less an animal will consume.
- Major losses in forage quality often occur due to poor storage and feeding techniques. Producing forage with good nutritive value is not enough; good animal performance results when animals consume forage that is suitably high in nutrients and low in fiber.