Feed cost is the major expense in beef cattle production. Overfeeding or underfeeding results in inefficient beef production and reduced profit.

“The goal of all beef production systems should be to meet nutrient needs of all classes of animals at a level which optimizes performance at the lowest cost,” said Mark Keaton, Baxter County, Ark., Extension staff chair.

Properly identifying energy and protein needs of a particular class of livestock is the first step. For example, requirements of a dry cow are considerably less than those of a nursing cow. Likewise, those of growing replacement heifers are different from those of a bull in the off season.

Since the requirements vary so much, it only makes good sense to group cattle according to nutrient needs, Keaton said. Any extra time spent separating cattle during the hay-feeding season will more than offset economic benefits realized next spring.

The next step is to determine the nutrient content of hay to see if any supplementation will be required.

Keaton advises producers not to estimate the quality of hay from book or visual evaluation since that will lead to errors in feeding.

“The resulting inefficient feeding will cost money,” he said. “The only reliable way to know the quality of hay is through forage analysis. There are guidelines for sampling a hay supply. Hay most accurately can be sampled using a bale core sampling device.”

The minimum number of core samples that should be taken from each lot of hay is the larger of the two — six bales or 20 percent of the number of bales in a lot.

A lot is hay of the same forage type that was cut from one field and baled with the same amount of curing and weathering, Keaton said. Bales from each lot of hay should be stored together for easy identification when feeding.

Core samples should be taken from the end of small square bales and from the side of round bales and stacks.

As the individual cores are taken, place them in a clean pail and mix well. Then take 1 pint (1 gallon if hand sampling) of the mixed material and seal in a plastic sandwich-type bag. Label the sample for easy identification and take it to your Cooperative Extension Service office.

In Arkansas, a routine analysis covering percent moisture, crude protein, fiber, total digestible nutrients and net energy of lactation for each sample costs $18, plus postage.

Typically, a producer would expect to collect samples from four to six lots of hay.

So, for an analysis cost of $72 to $108, a complete ration could be developed through the Extension office for each class of livestock. In some cases, winter feed costs can be cut in half.

For more information, contact your county Extension office or visit www.uaex.edu and select Agriculture, then Forage.