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Cattle Forage

When it comes to supplemental feeding of your livestock, you can’t go wrong with a quality forage report from your local farm extension. But after you’ve submitted your forage samples and the results come in, interpreting those results can be a little daunting. The goal is to develop a nutritional plan that fills in any gaps to your herd’s current forage program. Understanding the numbers in the report can help you do just that. Some of the most important values needing your attention include the following:

Crude protein (CP)

Crude protein is not an actual measure of protein, but an estimate of the amount of protein based on a feed’s nitrogen content. The nitrogen content is multiplied by the number 6.25 and the resulting figure is the amount of crude protein in the tested food. Knowing the amount of crude protein in feed helps cattle farmers balance the protein in their herd’s forage. When cattle forage is stored it often undergoes significant heating depending on where it’s located. Your forage analysis will take this into consideration and also account for bound protein or unavailable protein. This value is then used to calculate available crude protein which will help you balance the overall protein in the feed.

Dry Matter

Of all the parts of forage analysis, dry matter is the easiest of the measurements to understand, and a critical component to balanced nutrition. This analysis must be taken into consideration in order to remove any moisture variation when comparing values of different forages. DM can give you valuable insight into how forages were harvested and how they may have changed during storage. DM can also indicate the risk of mold and yeast growth in the forage.

Energy Content

The most confusing value to interpret in your forage analysis is the energy content, and the only real determination of a feed’s energy content is through trial and error. The value is then based on measurable values in the feed. Forage analysis uses ADF and NDF, laboratory procedures that predict the digestibility and intake potential of the forage you’re using. For example, the forage intake potential decreases as forage ages, making the NDF fraction increase. When digestibility decreases, the ADF fraction increases. The ADF is the best measurement of the energy contained in the forage. It is used to predict the net energy gain (Neg) and maintenance (NEm). The final part of the dry matter is the relative feed value (RFV). This value measures dry matter digestibility and intake. The RFV value should not be used to balance diets, but it can help when comparing the quality of different lots of hay or other forage.


Microminerals also referred to as trace minerals, include chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc. Although macro mineral concentrations can vary, knowing the macro mineral content of your forage can help you balance any supplementation your herd needs. Micromineral analysis, on the other hand, is more expensive and it’s difficult to get an accurate representation. This is due to the fact that micromineral content in forage varies by the season.

It’s important to interpret your forage analysis in as informed a way as possible to optimize cattle health and overall performance. Consulting your feed supplier, nutritionist and agronomist about your forage analysis results can help you plan and raise more well-balanced forage options for your herd.

When it comes to supplements for the health of your cattle, look no further than Tractor Supply Co. From mineral blocks to feed additives, we’ve got your cattle's nutritional needs covered.