Forage testing can be very useful to farmers as they provide the tools needed to make significant decisions on cattle nutrition.
While most producers would not want to conduct a forage test due to the costs associated with it, a forage test can actually increase the profitability of the farm. Forage test is able to provide a snapshot of the farmer's available forage resources at any point in time, which allows for balancing the diet accordingly with supplements of feeds as necessary.
There are also economic reasons for conducting forage testing. It enables the farmers to know whether they are either over-supplementing, which will increase the cost in the form of extra supplement not needed or under-supplementing, which will affect the performance of the herd.
The average cost of basic near infrared reflectance (NIR) analysis forage test would be around $15 - $25. It is highly recommended to test forages throughout the year and getting as representative a forage sample as possible.
As for stored or harvested forage, the ideal scenario is to test as close to feeding that forage as possible.
As time passes, moisture and dry matter will vary. Hence, it is vital to test close to feeding time so that the latest test results can help to develop supplementation strategy. This would require multiple tests throughout the year for different forage batches.
In general, NIR analysis works well for standard forages. However, if producers are using less common forages, then it might be a good idea to consider wet chemistry test, which would be a bit more expensive, usually costing around $30 - $40. However, wet chemistry test can provide lab analysis and testing for more specific results.
It is recommended to test pasture and grazing land n late summer and into the fall as the pasture quality usually declines and forages become dormant.
If you have stockpiled or dormant forages to use, going to fall is when testing standing forages would provide the most benefits. From there, ask your nutritionist to create or modify a supplementation strategy in order to increase the herd performance.