Data Distillations header image Data 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.


September 23rd, 2019 Insights

Author: Cliff Ocker

What can we learn from 0-hour starch digestibility?

As corn harvest is upon us, howbeit in various stages across the country, we start to look at the quality of what we just harvested.  In recent years, we have directed more of our attention to the digestibility of the nutrients in our forage and grain versus just the level of nutrients (fiber, starch, etc.).

For starch, we have looked primarily at a 7-hour digestibility value to help us capture the potentially digestible or rumen-available starch. I would like to draw your attention to an additional value to help us evaluate starch digestibility. For about five years, Rock River Laboratory has offered (as part of the Comprehensive Nutritional Analysis, CNA, by NIR) a 0-hour starch digestibility. This value can provide an edge on balancing diets as this value changes in forages and grains.

There are two main drivers of starch digestibility: moisture and particle size. A 0-hour time point provides a value for the small particle fraction that will pass through a 50-micron nylon bag, dipped in warm water, which helps quantify the very rapidly digested rumen starch. This is similar to adding corn starch to the diet, for rapid digestion or bug (microbes) food.

As shown in Figure 1 below, the 0-hour starch value will fluctuate over time in storage, just like the 3 and 7-hour values, so constant monitoring is important. Additionally, as shown in Figure 2, the 0-hour time point can be influenced significantly by the moisture of the crop at harvest. Rock River Laboratory has options to run samples by wet chemistry as well, with an ‘as fed’ particle size on corn grain to provide more accurate diet values. Please reach out to us for more details.

Figure 1

Rock River Laboratory database graph of 0 hour starch digestibility change over time in storage for corn silage

Figure 2

Rock River Laboratory graph of 0 hour starch digestibility by moisture content for corn grain and corn silage


August 15th, 2019 Insights

Author: Mark Kirk

Missing Crude Protein in 2019 Haylages 

Haylage has several beneficial nutritional characteristics that make it a high-quality feedstuff for dairy cows. These benefits come from a few different components, including structural fiber (i.e., neutral detergent fiber- NDF), protein, pectin, starch/sugar, minerals, and fat.

The protein component of haylage is very important as it is a critical, and expensive, nutrient in rations of dairy cows. Recommended Crude Protein (CP) levels in dairy diets range from 17 to 18 percent of dry matter (DM) in early lactation cows, but only as low as 12-13 percent in far-off dry cows. Having to buy protein sources to add to rations can be offset by growing and harvesting high-quality haylage that generally averages close to 20 percent CP as a percent of DM, and is substantially higher than the CP supplied by corn silage. 

Unfortunately, so far this year, samples of haylage submitted to Rock River Laboratory have seen a significant decrease in CP. The haylages from the West have held steady in their CP averages, while the haylages from the East have dipped slightly.Haylages from the Midwest have fallen off the greatest. 

Plot of Crude Protein for Haylage from Rock River Laboratory's database

Sometimes an increase in DM, because the crop has been harvested too mature, can cause a fall off of CP. From all indications, this does not appear to be the reason, as percent of DM has held relatively steady. 

Plot of Dry Matter for Haylage from Rock River Laboratory database


July 17th, 2019 Insights

Author: John Goeser, PhD, PAS, Diplomate ACAN

Capture every bit of value from corn grain now and into the future

New crop corn futures have been reacting to USDA crop reports, while acreage and yield estimates and futures (Dec. 2019 and beyond) have increased to roughly $0.80 per bushel over the past several months. The market ramifications may mean increasing feed costs per hundred-weight of milk (CWT) by around $0.40 per CWT (via corn grain equivalent) for a moderate to high starch dairy diet. 

Corn grain and silage starch digestibility can be improved by seed genetics, grinding or kernel processing and fermentation. Monitoring starch digestibility starts with evaluating fecal starch content for dairy, beef and now over 8 week old calf diets. 

The new goal for Total Tract Starch Digestibility (TTSD) is 98 to 99 percent for dairy diets, or less than one percent fecal starch (DM basis). Recent laboratory results are as follows in Figure 1, with the red guideline highlighting the new goal. Despite many feeding 8 to 10 month fermented corn grain and silage, many still observe fecal starch results greater than one percent, thus opportunity exists. Every one unit increase in fecal starch corresponds to roughly 0.25 lb. corn grain undigested in the Total Mixed Ration (TMR) and with increased corn costs, the pennies add up quickly. 

Figure 1: Dairy Fecal Starch Results Over Time

Rock River Laboratory Dairy Fecal Starch Results over time


June 21st, 2019 Insights

Author: Cliff Ocker

Forage variability = Opportunity

Forage variability is a given as many factors affect the quality of our feedstuffs. Weather, maturity, hybrid selection, storage and fermentation, to name a few, enter into the quality of the forages that we add to the diet. Undoubtedly, the better the forage quality, the easier it is for a nutritionist to make a lower cost diet - but the key to remember is that knowing and monitoring your forage variation equals opportunity.

With today’s models, we can look at so much more in our forages to help make these adjustments. The digestibility of our nutrients can change within our feedstuffs and our models can help predict cow response to these changes. Adjustments can then be made to keep a consistent and healthy diet in front of the cows. This allows us to maximize performance and health, which equals more profitability and opportunity.

Since we have only been seeing new (2019 crop) alfalfa samples for a few weeks, it’s difficult to see trends on exactly what forage quality we will have to work with this year for alfalfa. 

Note the variation in NDF on alfalfa over the last two years in Figure 1, below. 

Figure 1: NDF

Rock River Laboratory graph showing alfalfa quality NDF over the last two years

Figure 2 shows the 30-hour NDFD variation over the last 2 years on alfalfa. Tracking this allows for diet adjustments to keep the diet consistent and cows performing at their best.

Figure 2: NDFD 30 

Rock River Laboratory graph showing alfalfa quality NDFD30 over the last two years

The closer we can monitor these changes in our forages, the quicker we can respond and adjust the diet to keep consistent nutrition for the cow. This is a great time to express the importance of forage quality with producers and discuss how it can improve their diet for health, performance, and ultimately profitability.


May 14th, 2019 Insights

Author: Mark Kirk

Small grain silages

What is the state of this year’s small grain forage? Can these forages rescue us from the low-quality corn silage and poor hay we put up in 2018? Let's take a look at what we are seeing thus far in the samples coming through Rock River Laboratory.

In Figure 1, Dry Matter for Small Grains Silage, we can see that they have reached optimum dry matter so far this year. Remember that achieving high-quality benchmarks with any forage begins with a timely harvest – not necessarily just when the sun is shining, but when plant dry matters are optimum.

Figure 1

Figure 1_Plot of Dry Matter for Small Grains Silage_Rock River Laboratory database

As a result of proper dry matter, the NDFD30 for 2019 (Figure 2, NDFD30 for Small Grains Silage)  is holding strong and keeping up with the previous years’ trends, whereas the silages in the East are out-performing silages from the Midwest and West. After a slight dip in NDFD30 in Midwest silages, it appears there is a recovery happening.

Figure 2

Figure 2_Plot of NDFD30 for Small Grains Silage_Rock River Laboratory database

Figure 3, TTNDFD for Small Grains Silage, demonstrates that there is greater separation or differences in the regional measurements than we find if only reviewing NDFD30. Silages from the East are still leading the pack with greater TTNDFD, while silages from the Midwest are out-performing Western silages.

Figure 3

Figure 3_Plot of TTNDFD for Small Grains Silage_Rock River Laboratory database

These graphs provide hope that this year’s small grain silages may supply the extra boost needed to start the recovery from 2018’s poor-quality forages.


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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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