Understanding the Motivations for and Barriers to Feed Testing

Project Title

Motivations, Barriers, and Alternatives to Feed Testing for Cow-calf Producers


Emma C. Stephens – AAFC Lethbridge Research Centre emma.stephens@agr.gc.ca

Kathy Larson - University of Saskatchewan Tim A. McAllister – AAFC Lethbridge Research Centre Livestock and Feed Extension Specialists (Travis Peardon) – Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture Bree Kelln - BeefSmart Consulting Cheryl Waldner - WCVM, University of Saskatchewan John Campbell - WCVM, University of Saskatchewan

Status Project Code
In progress. Results expected in December, 2023 KTT.01.21


Feed testing is considered a fundamental tool to have accurate knowledge on feed quality to develop feeding strategies that are cost-effective to achieve production targets and save on feed costs (McKinnon, 2012). There is already a plethora of information on feed testing provided through various groups, yet many cattle producers skip this critical management tool. With all this information available, what seems to be holding cow-calf producers back?

In the 2017 Western Canadian Cow-Calf Survey (WCCCS), producers who did not feed test were asked to select their top reason why. The top reason selected was that cattle appeared to be healthy so there was no reason to test. While cattle may appear healthy, over and under feeding of nutrients does not always present itself with visual signs. However, the impact on costs and productivity will still be present. Other considerations include whether knowing which lab to use and which test to order presents challenges for producers.

While we have informed guesses as to why producers do not feed test, we do not currently have data directly from producers to test these hypotheses. Nor do we currently have a fully representative picture of feed testing and barriers to adopting these practices.


  • Design and administer a survey to a representative sample of cow-calf producers specifically concerning their existing experiences and issues with feed testing on their operations.
  • Survey data will be collected to provide better empirical support to extension efforts to increase feed testing practices by delving into the ins and outs of feed testing in practice.

What they will do

Two types of data collection will be included in this project:  

  • Qualitative interviews will be conducted with key informants (extension personnel, nutritionists, researchers, and industry associations) on the current state of feed testing.  
  • The key interview focus group findings will then be used to develop a producer survey on feed testing practices.

After collection of survey data, important relationships observed with feed testing strategies will be identified. Project collaborators will then work with cow-calf producer network contacts to share information across the industry. 

The key deliverable will be a detailed survey dataset that contains information on not just the frequency of feed testing but also data on other important aspects that drive feed testing decisions, along with observations of any alternative strategies currently in use, which may substitute for making use of feed testing within cow-calf operations. This information will be used to advance collective understanding of feed testing practices and to design targeted producer communication and extension activities based on identified barriers to feed testing. 


The target audience for this project is the research and extension community and producer groups who will be able to use this detailed information to refine extension and outreach activities and tools for meaningful uptake of feed testing and ration balancing.