North Dakota livestock producers are faced with low-quality forage and lack of available forage this year because of poor growing and harvesting conditions.

While some producers have plentiful hay, rain during and after cutting resulted in reduced forage quality due to mold, leaf loss, shatter and nutrient leaching. Characteristics of low-quality forages include high fiber content, low crude protein (CP) and energy (total digestible nutrients or TDN) content, and reduced fiber digestibility.

Low-quality forages also may have tough, coarse stems and reduced leaf-to-stem ratios, which can reduce palatability to livestock. In general, dry-matter intake typically is reduced with low-quality forages and the potential for nutrient deficiencies is increased.

“Although beef cows are able to utilize low-quality forages to some degree, supplementation will likely be necessary to meet nutrient requirements this winter for spring-calving cows,” says Janna Block, North Dakota State University Extension livestock specialist based at the Hettinger Research Extension Center.

“The last trimester of gestation is extremely critical in terms of nutritional management of the cow herd,” she adds. “Protein and energy requirements of the cow will increase by 15% to 20% from midgestation to support rapid fetal and placental growth and prepare for lactation.”

Consequences of feeding low-quality forages to pregnant cattle without appropriate supplementation include weight and body condition losses, lowered immune function, calving difficulty, calf health issues, reduced milk production and decreased conception rates.

The best way to utilize any forage is through proper sampling and laboratory analysis so that the correct supplement can be used.

“Recognizing that forage quality can be affected by a variety of environmental factors during harvest and storage, it is extremely important to determine chemical composition of all available forage through laboratory analysis to develop an effective feeding strategy,” says Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist.

For more information on feed sampling and analysis, Meehan recommends the NDSU Extension publication “Sampling Feed for Analysis,” which is available at

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