Your Phone and Some Cow Poop Can Tell You How Nutritious Your Forage Is

As you head into winter, you might be wondering if your stockpile is nutritious enough for your cattle. From August of 2017, here’s how to figure out what you’ve got without actually sending the forage to a lab: Use the FREE Cow Poop Analyzer with your smart phone! Don’t have a smart phone? Read on scroll down to just below the fourth picture where you’ll find a link to give you what you need to figure it out a less techie way.

The “Cow Poop Analyzer” is a free app, that uses comparison photos to tell you what your cattle manure says about the nutritional value of what they’re eating. It lets you take a picture of a manure pile, and then compare your picture to file photos. Each file photo comes with an estimate for the crude protein and digestibility you can expect from your forage based on the quality of the manure. Even better, you can add a title and pasture name to the automatically dated record. Then you’ll have a history of forage quality in your pastures over time.

Using the App is easy:

1. Click on “Create New Record”

2. Allow the app to use your Smartphone’s camera
3. Take a picture of the poop.
4. If you like the picture, click “Use Photo” and if you don’t click “Retake.”
5. When you click “Use Photo” a screen will come up comparing your photo to stock photos. The first picture that comes up isn’t necessarily a match. You’ll need to use your finger to slide from one photo to the next until you find one that most closely matches your photo. Then you’ll see the crude protein and digestibility estimates under the example photo.

6. Click “Save” and then enter a title, pasture name/number and any notes.

7. Click “Submit” and you’re all done.
8. Now you’re back at the home screen. You can choose to “View Existing Records” or click on “Forage Quality Descriptions” to learn more about forage quality based on manure clues.

The app is available for iPhones, iPads and Android phones. To get the app, go to your App store, search for Cow Poop Analyze and install it on your device. If you don’t have one of those, here are pictures and info from Texas A&M’s “Forage Quality Photo Guide” that you can use the old fashioned way:

If your manure pile looks like this one, your forage has crude protein greater than 20 percent and digestibility of 70 percent to 80 percent. The dropping forms around whatever is beneath it, with little shape of its own. Also, notice the dark green color. The high-quality forage is typically associated with cool-season winter forages such as small grains or ryegrass. Nutrient (protein and energy) availability exceeds the cattle’s requirements for maintenance, growth or lactation.

This dropping indicates a forage crude protein level between 10 percent and about 17 percent and a digestibility of 61 percent to 67 percent. Notice the slight crater-like appearance in the surface of this sample. In the 10 percent to 13 percent crude protein range, small folds may be present in the dropping. Supplementation, or the addition of protein and energy to the diet, is not required for mature cows. Forage, which creates droppings like this, should support 1 pound to 1.5 pounds average daily gain on heifers and steers.

Does your manure look like this? Then you’re looking at a crude protein level between 6 percent and 9 percent. Digestibility is from 58 percent to 63 percent; a slight overlap with the crude protein level of 10 percent to 17 percent. At this forage quality level, a dropping exhibits flat folds. As forage quality increases within this range, the folds become smaller. This dropping indicates that forage quality is adequate to supply maintenance requirements for mature cows. Minimal weight gain in replacement heifers and stocker cattle should be expected.

Finally, this cattle dropping indicates a forage crude protein level of 5 percent or less and digestibility at or below 56 percent. Notice the distinct rings in the lower right portion of the dropping. These rings tend to be firm. Droppings such as this tend to stack, however, stacking without the distinct hard rings is not characteristic of this forage quality level. This dropping indicates that forage is below the maintenance requirements for all classes of beef cattle. Forage digestibility and intake may increase with protein supplementation.

One last pointer – cows that have been running around or are stressed will have loose droppings. Don’t use those to judge forage quality.

Thanks to Dr. Megan Clayton for the app and to Scott McEldowney of Douglas County for introducing me to it! Let me know how you use it. I’d love to hear if you think this is helpful or not.

Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible.

The 7th National Grazing Lands Conference is coming up in December and it’s one of On Pasture’s favorites. One of the things that makes it so great is that folks just like you are the speakers, sharing their great experiences. Learn more about the event here. On Pasture will be there. Come see us!

3 thoughts on “Your Phone and Some Cow Poop Can Tell You How Nutritious Your Forage Is

    1. Hi Michael,

      Megan didn’t know that that the app had disappeared from Google play store. She’s on travel right now but will check into it when she gets back.

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