Take a chapter from the meteorologist's handbook

Posted on
November 21, 2023
Buffy Uglow    buffy_uglow@rockriverlab.com

By: Katie Raver, Animal Nutrition and Feed Support Specialist

As we head further into fall, the weather always seems to be top of conversation - be it fair or foul. Discussions of the timing of the next cold front or when the first snow is expected can be heard over countless checkout counters at the local grocery store. Weather is an ultimate feed variation source. Much like weather patterns and forecasts, factors contributing variation to feed is a common conversation topic in our line of work. 

Down here in Texas, extreme temperatures seem to fluctuate just as quickly as they did in my previous Midwestern life. Last week may have averaged 90 degrees, but I don’t assume that next week is going to be 90 degrees! There are month-to-month and regional averages, but we don’t necessarily use them to gauge what we’re going to wear when we leave in the morning. Instead, we focus on looking at a weather app the morning of, or the TV news weather forecast the preceding evening. 

Much in the same way, feeds, forages, and commodities change frequently. They are going to change - we know this as a fact. Where and when feeds are grown, how they are harvested, and even sampling procedures can all have an impact and should be accounted for. 

But, what do we do about these changes? Relying less on a single sample to tell the story is a great first step. Averages should be considered over frequent timing - and as such, more frequent sampling is needed. Easy for me to say - I work for a lab and more samples is what we preach. But, this applies across many facets of life. Do you sight-in a rifle with one shot? Several shots, frequently, paint a much better picture. Averaging samples allows us to get away from one sample having too much weight on what decisions we’re making. 

The same statistical power employed at the shooting range can be utilized within nutritional analysis. Rock River Laboratory employs several Quality Control (QC) checks. One of which is, if a sample differs from the sample description, the sample is brought to our attention for further review. I once assumed this would only include isolated incidents. But this QC check catches corn silage changes that are ‘normal’. Big swings in feed analyte measurements don’t seem like they would be the norm, but they are. And, the sooner we catch them and update the ration accordingly, the better apt we are to maintain cow performance and economic efficiency on the farm. 

Everything in nutrition - including commodities and forages -  contains variation. Uncovering meaningful variation that we can manage, then coping with this, and getting used to the ebb and flow can help us prepare the best plan of action the next time we see our silage starch dwindling, or have the jackets out and ready for the next cold front heading our way. 

Posted in:
Animal Nutrition