Analyzing Forages for Better Rationing

Forages are the main component of ruminant diets, and improving the rations is frequently the key to profitability for livestock and dairy producers. Poorly balanced rations can result in low milk production in dairy cows and slow weight gain for beef cattle.

Normally, forage is roughage (whole plant leaves and stems) that is fed to ruminant animals (beef cattle, dairy cows, and horses) to offer nutrition.

Hay forages could be legume hay, dry grass hay and mixtures of the two. Haylage is hay that has been enabled to ferment in a silo for some time. Corn silages and haylage are corn plants and forage materials, respectively. They are partially dried and chopped for storage purposes.

Furthermore, these wet forages are fermented discretely in air-tight horizontal storage bunkers or tower silos. Forages display extensive changes in nutritional content, and frequent and precise analysis is key to optimizing animal rations.

Analyzing Forages for Better Rationing

Image Credit: KPM Analytics

Forage Testing Specialists

Table 1. Source: KPM Analytics

. .
University Researcher University researchers are leading the way to identify new analytical tests to predict animal performance from feeds and forages. Many of these analytical tests, such as various lignin assays and digestibility tests, have been used as reference methods for new NIR calibrations.
Forage Testing Laboratory The forage testing laboratories are on the front lines in producing timely data for producers. The rapid testing time means that the nutritional values are available for real-time ration balancing, allowing for more precise control of the diet, efficient use of expensive supplements, and better animal performance. Many are developing innovative methods to return the data back to the producers over the internet for immediate use. Forage testing laboratories are constantly developing and implementing new calibrations into their packages, giving producers instant access to new and novel parameters with each NIR analysis.
Dairy Cow Production Sites Sites with a larger number of dairy cows now frequently run their own testing of forages using NIR. The availability of starter calibrations and the simplicity of use of today’s analytical equipment offers the added advantage of “on the spot”# optimization thereby increasing yield and profitability.


Forage Analysis

Fundamental forage analysis consists of at least dry matter, crude fiber, ADF, crude protein, ADP and NDF, as well as various minerals. Frequently, a few measures of digestibility, as well as estimated parameters for energy availability, are included. It is often expensive, tedious and tiresome to obtain such data from traditional wet chemistry techniques.

Near-Infrared (NIR) analysis of forages tends to produce 20 or more compositional and property values within a minute from dried ground forage samples with a precision that rivals wet chemistry techniques and offers excellent repeatability. Samples can be examined quickly with just one analyst, with no hazardous chemicals or procedures.

NIR forage analyzers are extensively used for bigger livestock and dairy producers, plant breeders, analytical laboratories, and university researchers. The majority of forage analysis is executed with dried and ground samples, although calibrations are available for fresh forage samples obtained directly from the field.

Image Credit: KPM Analytics

Technology Options for Forage Analysis

Forage analyses are among some of the most demanding NIR applications, but the amount and speed of the results provide some of the largest and quickest payback potentials. Forage analyses are challenging due to the complex nature of the sample types, along with the breadth and specificity of the constituents needed.

To model complete sample variation and offer the required spectral information to anticipate such constituents requires many calibration samples along with high-quality spectral data. Noisy or low-resolution spectral data will need various calibration samples and be restricted in the repeatability and precision of the analysis.

For such cases, a scanning monochromator like the SpectraStar™ XT Series is considered to be the best solution for laboratory or at-line analysis of forages. Throughout the world, scanning monochromator-based instrumentation is the most extensively used technology for forage analysis with thousands of analyzers in use and time-proven outcomes.

Instrumentation of this kind will help offer the sample analysis capability to examine several sample types for the hardest parameters with the least validation and calibration requirements.

SpectraStar™ XT Series

KPM Analytics provides a range of user-friendly NIR solutions for the forage sector. The SpectraStar XT-R analyzer is a sophisticated, high-performance at-line scanning monochromator. SpectraStar features the following characteristics:

  • An extensive library of robust calibrations developed from hundreds-to-thousands of samples to validate incoming ingredients or grab-samples for important quality parameters
  • Designed for ease-of-use; only minimal training required for routine operators
  • Advanced sample management and reporting
  • Sealed case with 17” touch screen monitor for easy operation
  • Windows®10 Professional computer with SSD provides easy integration into computer networks

Calibration Options for Forage Analysis

Forage calibrations are some of the complicated NIR applications in regular use, and normally need hundreds or thousands of samples to correctly model the sample variation. KPM Analytics has business-ready solutions for customers who are new to NIR forage analysis and also for those that have developed their calibrations on another legacy NIR instrumentation.

Plug and Go INGOT® Calibrations from Aunir™

KPM Analytics has collaborated with Aunir, the world-leading NIR calibration provider for more than 25 years, to ensure the ultimate user-friendly performance. Aunir has more than 500,000 samples in its calibration databases for excellent performance and hardiness.

The forage calibrations consist of samples from across the world and provide strong and innovative predictions for pasture grasses, timothy, rye, clover, maize, legume, whole crop wheat, sorghum and other fermented and non-fermented forages.

INGOT calibrations are covered by one-year free calibration assistance and a performance guarantee to assure that the calibrations function correctly on every installation.

Analyzing Forages for Better Rationing

Image Credit: KPM Analytics

Transfer and Go Create and Go UCal 4™ Software

UCal 4 is a complete calibration software package for the development of high-performance NIR calibrations in many applications.

UCal 4 consists of advanced algorithms to guarantee a precise and full transfer of calibration data, thereby saving the time and money spent developing calibrations

Analyzing Forages for Better Rationing

Image Credit: KPM Analytics

The UCAL 4 process starts with population structuring routines to select samples for optimal calibration libraries, minimizing reference laboratory expense and maximizing robustness. Calibration regressions programs with customizable defaults simplify model creation, and validation routines monitor and maintain calibrations for verifiable results.

UCal 4 incorporates advanced chemometric tools for ultimate performance from your calibration data. Both quantitative and qualitative models can be directly configured in the SpectraStar XT analyzers for immediate use in routine analysis. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock / DmyTo

The Value of NIR to Forage Analysis

As explained above, the parameter values preferred for a full analysis of forage are diverse. In general, these tests are tedious and/or involve hazardous chemicals or costly apparatus. To evaluate the monetary value of NIR in forage analyses, the average cost from analytical laboratories for several parameters is listed below.

Table 2. Source: KPM Analytics

Forage Quality Parameter Euro $ USD Time (Hours)
Dry Matter 10.00 13.00 24
DM, CP, NDF, ADF 30.00 39.00 48
Minerals 20.00 26.00 24
Lignin, Fat, Ash, Starch, ADICP, NDICP 40.00 52.00 72
Digestibility 70.00 91.00 120
TOTAL 170.00 221.00  


Even considering package discounts, the costs above illustrate that a SpectraStar XT Series analyzer could be paid for after only 500 samples. But the monetary cost analysis neglects the value of the data itself.

Conventional wet chemistry testing returns data after a few days. This implies that the forage tested has long been applied to the rations and restricts the impact of the outcomes on formulating the diet. NIR results could be ready in a just few hours, requiring only drying and grinding of the sample followed by an analysis of one minute.

The quick testing time implies that the nutritional values come from real-time ration balancing, enabling efficient use of costly supplements, highly accurate control of the diet, and improved animal performance.

Also, affordable charges and quick outcomes enable high frequent testing, also contributing to improved control of the animal diets.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by KPM Analytics.

For more information on this source, please visit KPM Analytics.


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