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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

November 29, 2023 - 9:00am --

We have been discussing the importance of forage testing to the performance and well-being of your livestock.  Previously, we talked about how to collect a forage sample and how to read your forage test results.  Today, I want to briefly discuss matching your forage test results to an animal’s nutritional needs.  Obviously this is a discussion that can get really technical, so we will speak generally and I would encourage you to discuss your ration formulation needs with a nutritionist.  An animal’s body, and our own bodies for that case, has to decide what to do with each bite of food they take.  What happens with the nutrients in each bite is dependent on what the body is being asked to do.  This nutrient partitioning follows a hierarchy, which follows a reasonably expected pattern. 

The nutrients taken in first are used to meet the needs of the animal’s central nervous system, then organ function, bone growth, muscle growth, lactation requirements, reproduction, and lastly fat disposition.  This is why we use body condition scoring as a tool to determine if we are meeting the nutritional needs of our animals.  If an animal is putting on fat, we have met all their other nutrient needs.  As you should be able tell, depending on what is being asked of the animal will dictate the amount of nutrients we need to supply to the animal.  At a minimum, we may just need to maintain an older cow or ewe.  If she isn’t growing any more, and isn’t currently lactating, we can get by with below average forage to keep her in an acceptable condition.  However, if we have a young cow (or ewe) that is still growing and might be nursing its offspring and we are trying to get it bred back, then their nutrient requirements will be much higher.

Where to find nutritional needs information

The Oklahoma State University Factsheet E-974 is a great source of information on the nutritional needs of beef cattle and Oregon State University has assembled a detailed description of sheep requirements in their 2019 “Nutrient Requirements of Sheep” factsheet.  To better understand how an animal’s requirements change as she moves through the production year, we will use the example of a 150 lb ewe.  During her first 15 weeks of pregnancy she is going to eat about 2 percent of her body weight each day and will need about 0.29 lbs of protein.  During her last 4 weeks of pregnancy, she will eat 2.6 percent of her body weight each day and needs 0.42 lbs of protein each day.  Finally, during the first 6 weeks of nursing twins she will eat about 4 percent of her body weight in feed and needs 0.92 lbs of protein.  If we have a forage that tests at 15 percent crude protein, the ewe during early gestation will eat about 3 lbs of hay to get 0.45 pounds of protein, which meets her needs.  However, using the same hay on an ewe, nursing twins, she will need to eat 6 pounds per day, but it will give her 0.9 pounds of protein, which is just below her expected requirements. 

I hope this rationalizes the need to test your forages.  The overall quality of our forages is highly dependent on the growing year weather, soil fertility, and harvest stage.  This will create a wide possibility of forage quality and is just as variable from year to year.  While we can estimate the nutrient needs of the animal, we can’t guarantee what is being delivered through our harvested forages unless you get them tested.

A look ahead at programs coming this winter

We are quickly approaching the winter programming series for OSU Extension around the state.  Many of you may be in need of recertification for your private pesticide and/or fertilizer applicators license.  You can find a complete list of opportunities by visiting the OSU Pesticide Education Website at  Click on the private applicator tab at the top of the page and select “pesticide recertification”.  You can then find a list of programs offered in our region of the state.  Also on the state level, the OSU Extension farm office team will be hosting a Basics of Grain Marketing Workshop on February 8th and 9th at the OSU Extension office in Marysville, OH.  The 3 day event is limited to 35 participants and cost $100 per person.  You can register by going to and selecting “Grain Marketing Workshop” from the “Grain Marketing Tab”.  On a local level, we also will be hosting an advanced commodity marketing conference beginning on February 7th at the Buckeye Ag Museum.  Our event will be held on day each week during February and will feature the top marketing experts from around the country.  The program agenda and registration materials will be available in early December. 

As always, If you have questions about your forages, or any other livestock or farm business questions, please feel free to contact me at the OSU Wayne County Extension office at 330-264-8722, or email me at  I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving and hope that you have a safe harvest.

John Yost is an Extension Educator IV, Agriculture and Natural Resources, at OSU Extension-Wayne County.
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.