Rock River Laboratory Data Distillations HeaderData Distillations

Data Distillations is published monthly and utilizes Rock River Laboratory’s vast database of feedstuff information from across the United States, along with our expert team, to share important insights.

In an effort to help the agriculture industry stay in front of challenges and opportunities with available feedstuffs, relevant graphs will be shared, along with what our team members are gleaning based on those graphs. Prepare for and remedy the ups and downs of feedstuffs components you utilize in your rations with the help of another set of eyes. Sign up to receive alerts when new Data Distillations are available each month by completing the thirty-second form at the bottom of this page.

We’ve spent over 40 years equipping the agriculture industry with the tools and answers needed to make decisions for successful outcomes. Our team is happy to help provide additional insights to our accurate analysis of your customer’s feedstuffs. Give us a call or send us an e-mail today to learn more.


April 15th, 2019 Insights

Author: John Goeser

Unique 2018 feeding value wasn’t just about corn silage

When pulling a number database trend graphics together for upcoming industry meetings, I stumbled upon several telling graphics showcasing corn grain nutritional value. In many areas, butterfat and milk components have been very strong. However, the strength in butterfat may soon waiver, with warmer temperatures and wild yeast loads present in silage coming on as indicated on the right-hand side of Figure 1. One overlooked component to the strong milk fat and protein production the past few months is likely corn grain.

Figure 1: Total yeast counts (colony forming unit, CFU, per g) in feeds analyzed by Rock River Laboratory for the US, since 2017.

Data Distillations_Yeast

Corn grain feed value depends on several things, including growing conditions (environment), genetics, grain maturity (i.e. milk line), particle size, and fermentation extent. The finer the particle size and the greater the fermentation extent, the better the feeding value. However, with limited ensiling potential and more mature grain, both of which are correlated to grain dry matter, rumen starch digestibility and feed values are tempered. The 2018 corn grain crop, now well documented within Rock River Laboratory’s database, is solidly showcasing its feed value.

The 2018 crop, being fed out from September 2018 through today, looks to be markedly drier than prior crops, as evidenced in Figure 2. The average dry matter looks to be well above 70 percent (or significantly less than 30 percent moisture) for the 2018 crop. Contrast this to years past, and you’ll notice moistures for the Midwest and Northeastern US trended closer to, or greater than, 30 percent.

Figure 2: Corn grain dry matter content for US samples analyzed by Rock River Laboratory since 2017.

Data Distillations_Corn Grain Dry Matter

What does a drier corn grain mean? Likely drier corn correlates with a harder (more mature) grain and less fermentation potential. Both of these factors affect rumen starch digestibility, which we can now better directly view via Figure 3. Rumen starch digestibility appears to be 5 to 10 units off of the 2017 crop, and these differences appear to be present through to April. Lesser rumen starch potential equates to alternate rumen microbial growth patterns and could be a contributing factor toward substantially greater milk components. Prior to today, the discussion has focused on silage, however, the story looks to extend to grains as well.

Figure 3: In situ rumen starch digestibility (percent of starch, 7 hr) for US samples analyzed by Rock River Laboratory since 2017.

Data Distillations_In Situ Starch D in Corn Grain

To check grain potential, consider checking both fecal starch (to assess total tract starch digestibility, for dairy or beef manure) and grain rumen starch digestibility. Consult with the Rock River Laboratory nutrition support team for additional guidelines, and to help with results interpretation.


March 12th, 2019 Insights

Author: Cliff Ocker

Feedstuff Fatty Acid Content and Variation

As Nutritionists, we do not accept book values for crude protein (CP), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), and starch in our forages, so why are we accepting book values for fatty acids and why are we comfortable using total fat values in our diets? Similar to crude protein being broken down into individual amino acids, fat can also be broken down into individual fatty acids. Fatty acids are nutritionally the most important part of fat and are 2.25 times more energy-rich than carbohydrates and proteins in the diet. 

With energy often being the most limiting nutrient in the diet, we should look closer at these values, yet we regularly rely on book values for fatty acid supply. Note the variation of ether extract (fat) and total fatty acids in a couple of forages [below], but also observe the difference in ether extract (EE) versus total fatty acids (TFA). A fatty acid profile is available, by NIR, on your forage samples via Rock River Laboratory’s Comprehensive Nutrient Package.

Data Distillations_Haylage Fat Content Graph

Data Distillations_Corn Silage Fat Content Graph

One popular thought is, “If the level of fatty acid (FA) in a forage is low enough, why should I bother?” Keep in mind that typically, the largest part of the diet is forage and it can have a compounding effect. This can change the fatty acid profile in a total mixed ration (TMR) significantly. Using book values versus actual FA values in the diet can change the FA supply from 10 percent to 50 percent, significantly affecting the diet and cow performance.  Additionally, forages can contribute more than you think to the Rumen unsaturated fatty acid load (RUFAL) (C18:1, 2 and 3), as noted in the chart below:

Data Distillations_Fatty Acid Content in Feedstuffs Table

As we head into warmer temperatures, keep in mind that there is a seasonal effect on how fats are metabolized within the cow.  Ration adjustments should be considered to help maintain energy levels, milk fat, and animal health and performance.


February 11th, 2019 Insights

Author: Mark Kirk

Watching the starch load.

As we hit the middle of February, fermentation of corn silage has all but completely stabilized. This is the time when starch digestibility is the highest. At this point, it might be time to adjust the amount or percentage of starch in the ration as cows are capturing more energy from the starch in well-fermented corn silage.

Figure 1: Whole plant corn silage insituStarchD7hr as a % if starch for East (red), Midwest (green) and Western (blue) US region.

Rock River Laboratory In Situ Starch D7 for Corn Silage

It is easy to see that generally by this time of the year starch digestibility has leveled off. If you notice a drop in butter fat with no other changes to the ration make sure you consider this as a possible culprit.

Figure 2: Whole plant corn silage starch content as a % dry matter.

Rock River Laboratory Starch for Corn Silage

Adding to this the amount of starch in corn silage is also up this year a few percentage points especially in the East and Midwest. This is a function of getting crops off a little later this year and consequently a little drier.

Figure 3: Whole plant corn silage Dry Matter

Rock River Laboratory Dry Matter for Corn Silage

As the corn plant matures the amount of starch increase, as ensiling time increases so does starch digestibility. With higher than typical percentages of starch and starch digestibility at its peak starch load is an important consideration.


Rock River Laboratory Database Plot of Starch for Corn Silage

Figure 2: Whole plant corn silage dry matter content (%) for East (red), Midwest (green) and Western (blue) US regions since January 2017

Rock River Laboratory Database Plot of Dry Matter for Corn Silage

Compounding the challenges a mature silage brings to the farm, in many regions, ear and stalk rots set in. Many have recognized the potential for mycotoxin contamination exists, however, my number one awareness point for dairies and feedlots still comes back to the crop dry matter.

With a drier crop, along with an increasing fungal load in feeds year-in-year-out (data not shown), Rock River Laboratory has recognized greater yeast loads in later 2018 (Figure 3). This plot represents a potential sleeping microbial giant out there.

Figure 3: Whole plant corn silage yeast content for all US regions the past two years

Rock River Laboratory Database Plot of Yeast

While yeast growth and feed deterioration may have dropped back during colder (winter) weather, these microbes are likely present in substantial concentrations on many farms. This is a strong point to be aware of as we trend soon toward warmer weather.

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Rock River Laboratory

Founded in 1976, Rock River Laboratory is a family-owned laboratory network that provides production assistance to the agricultural industry through the use of advanced diagnostic systems, progressive techniques, and research-supported analyses.  Employing a team of top specialists in their respective fields, Rock River Laboratory provides accurate, cost-effective, and timely analytical results to customers worldwide, while featuring unsurpassed customer service.

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