Faecal Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy for Cattle
The quality of the diet consumed by cattle is one of the main determinants of productivity (reproductive performance, growth rate and carcass quality). However, conventional methods of estimating the diet quality of grazing cattle are costly, time consuming and generally unreliable.
Because of the importance of diet quality in driving productivity, the ability to make inexpensive and reliable estimates of this trait can allow producers to acquire critical information for efficient production systems and enhanced economic viability. This is especially valuable when making decisions in relation to strategic and cost-effective supplementation. New technology based on the analysis of cattle faeces using Near lnfrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS) is breaking fertile ground in the quick, inexpensive and reliable prediction of diet quality of grazing cattle.
This service is unique to Symbio Laboratories, the only laboratory in Australia to conduct this testing under license from CSIRO and MLA who funded and developed this specialized technology.
Are your cattle getting the nutrients they need?
Cattle producers spend ten’s of millions of dollars each year on supplements – either molasses based liquids and blocks, or mineral based loose licks, that they offer to cattle to try and correct deficiencies in the soil/diet. Trouble is, they don’t really know what the animal’s deficiencies are. The major nutrients limiting growth and performance in cattle are:
- Energy – primarily from pasture/browse
- Protein – if low in pasture/browse, has to be sourced from urea
- Phosphorus – Australian soil is notoriously phosphorus deficient so this is a common deficiency.
In some cases there may appear to be plenty of grass available but the cattle are still not gaining weight. This may be due to low digestibility of the grass, ie the cattle simply can’t get any goodness from it. Most supplements contain varying levels of each energy, phosphorus and protein (urea) but money is often wasted paying for energy when it is phosphorus that is largely deficient and so on.
How can producers work out which nutrients their cattle are deficient in?
Answer… Analyse what the cattle are eating.
It seems easy enough, but the problem is that when the cattle are grazing over hundreds of hectares it’s difficult to know what they are actually eating, and in what proportions.
Why Faecal Analysis?
By sampling the manure from a mob of cattle, you have collected exactly what the cattle have consumed. Faecal NIRS effectively uses the cattle as their own diet collection device. The manure is then tested by Near lnfrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS) to determine:
- Forage nitrogen and protein
- Forage digestibility
- Forage energy content
- Amount of non-grass (browse) in the diet
- Other diet criteria can be derived from these base measurements (ie phosphorus can also be determined, but requires wet chemistry).
The results of manure analysis gives the producer a good idea of:
- What key nutrients he should spend his money on energy, protein or phosphorus
- Stocking density – when to take the cattle off a paddock, and if they are performing well or poorly given the quality of pasture available (poor performance could suggest trace element deficiencies or disease)
Kits are available from Symbio Laboratories to make the process of collecting, submitting and interpreting faecal sample analysis as simple as possible.
Each kit contain instructions, a sample submission form, sample jar and pre-paid post bag.