Author: Rory Lewandowski
I have received several phone calls recently where the caller describes their hay; date baled, whether or not it got rained on before baling, general appearance, and sometimes smell. The question is how to best use this hay, is it suitable for horses or cows or sheep to eat? Physical evaluation of hay is useful to sort hay into general categories such as high, medium or low quality. To move beyond general categories and predict animal performance requires a forage chemical analysis.
This is a good year to sample your hay for analysis. I have seen some first cutting hay forage test results with nutrient values comparable to straw. Feeding low and medium quality hay without a forage test analysis presents a challenge. Does the hay meet the animal’s nutrient requirement? If not, how much supplementation with another feedstuff is needed? A forage test result can help answer those questions and if it is reasonable to expect that an animal can consume enough of the forage to meet its nutrient requirements.
The key to getting reliable forage test results depends upon sending a good, representative sample to the testing lab. For hay sampling some key points include:
- Identify and sample from a single lot of hay, a single cutting from fields with similar forage composition baled no more than 48 hours apart.
- Use a hay probe to sample bales. Many County Extension offices have a hay probe that is available to facilitate sampling.
- Sample at least 20 cores from 20 randomly selected bales within a lot of hay. More is better.
- Submit a sample of about one-half pound to the lab. If you collect more than this from your core sampling, mix cores in a plastic bucket and sub-sample to obtain your lab sample.
To formulate rations, at a minimum the lab should provide of dry matter content, crude protein content, available crude protein, acid detergent and neutral detergent fiber (ADF and NDF) along with an energy estimate such as TDN or net energy. Dairy forage analysis will typically include some estimate of NDF digestibility as well.
For more information about forage sampling and forage test analysis, contact your local County Extension office.