Wednesday, November 7, 2018

"Do you know what's in your haystack?"

It seems hay feeding season may not be very far off, which begs the question, ‘Do you know what’s
Hay feeding season will soon be here.  A forage analysis is
money well spent to know what is in your haystack and if it
meet your herd's needs.  Photo by Kari Lewis.
in your haystack?”  And no, I’m not referring to the deer that seem to frequent some haystacks…but do you know what is in your haystack for hay quality?  A simple forage test is money well spent that provides critical information on everything from protein and energy levels to nitrate presence.

A representative sample from the hay lot should be taken using a hay probe, which is available at your local extension office.  A hay probe attaches to a cordless drill which allows for getting a sample of the hay within a bale.  Grabbing and pulling hay from different bales will NOT provide uniform samples for analysis. 

Approximately 10% of the bales in a lot should be randomly sampled.  Round bales should be sampled from the curved side of the bale and square bales should be sampled either at a 45-degree angle on the side or from the end of the bales to get a nice cross section across the flakes.  The sample from the hay lot should be uniformly mixed, put into a Ziploc bag and shipped to a lab as soon as possible (which your Extension office can help with). 

A forage test will typically cost $15 to $40 depending on which analyses are requested, and results are typically available in 7 to 10 days.  If you have any grain hay, we strongly recommend a nitrate test now that the forage has been cut and baled.  If there’s nitrate present, we can help you determine how much of that hay you can feed and at what level.

Having your forage tested is a critical step before purchasing supplement.  Once forage quality is known, we can then fill in the gaps with appropriate supplementation.  Without knowing forage quality though, we might not purchase the correct supplement, or we may even overspend on a product that we don’t need.  Within Extension, we can help develop rations based upon your available forages to ensure a herd’s nutrient requirements are met for various stages of production and weather conditions. 

Lastly, be sure to ALWAYS request a forage analysis before buying hay.  I’ve seen hay advertised as, “Cow Hay,” “Good Grass Hay,” or “CRP Hay,” but the seller’s definition of what is ‘Good Grass Hay” and the buyer’s definition may be miles apart…. make sure to request an analysis before purchasing hay!

To analyze your hay’s nutrient quality, first a hay sample must be taken.   Each hay lot, that is hay from the same field, same cutting, and harvested under the same conditions, should be sampled separately.  For example, when finished sampling, you might have a sample of 1st cutting alfalfa hay, 2nd cutting alfalfa hay, CRP hay, etc. 

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