Test Don’t Guess
Most livestock producers want to insure they are getting the best feedstuff possible to their livestock. When feeding hay, a producer can achieve their high-quality standards by forage testing.
Forage testing will determine the nutritional value of your hay, and from there, you can decide if you need an additional supplement for your herd.
“Testing also will give you an idea whether your hay meets the nutritional needs of a certain class of cattle,” said Eldon Cole, livestock specialist for the University of Missouri-Extension, “Lactating cows or growing stocker steers usually require the highest quality feed, so by testing you can sort your cattle into groups based on the energy and protein amounts in different hays and haylages.”
To test your hay, you must first determine a “lot.”
The National Forage Testing Associations stays a hay lot should be identified which is a single cutting, a single field and variety, and generally be less than 200 tons. Combinations of different lots of hay cannot be represented adequately by a forage sampling method; different lots should be sampled separately.
Hay tested should not be a mix of cutting, fields of hay types.
Once a lot has been identified, use hay coring device to take 20 or more cores at random from the hay lot.
“Most Extension Centers have a hay probe which helps obtain an appropriate sample,” Cole said.
After obtaining the samples, they should be stored in a sealed plastic bag out of the heat and sun until they are sent off for testing. Samples can be refrigerated if needed.
One of the questions that producers often have is when to test their hay.
“I suggest testing the hay soon after harvest or when you purchase it,” Cole said. “If it’s stored inside, or is haylage, there should not be much difference. Outside hay probably needs to be tested nearer the time of feeding as it could deteriorate setting out in the weather. A test at that time could reveal unavailable protein which might require added protein supplement.”
There are certain things to look for after receiving test results. “Energy (total digestible nutrients) TDN, protein and moisture are the primary nutrients to look for in a test,” Cole said.
He went on to note that, “other options that may also help make feeding and supplement decisions are: neutral detergent fiber which helps estimate intake of the hay; the minerals, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, sulfur and sodium; nitrates, which may be a toxicity issue with some forages under certain weather and fertility conditions.”
Tests may also come back with additional results.
“The lab may run a Relative Feed Value (RFV) or the Relative Forage Quality (RFQ). These are a sort of index that combines the fiber portions of the forage into one value,” Cole said. “The RFQ is becoming more used and both may be helpful in establishing a price per ton on the hay.”
He noted that the University of Missouri Extension is going to use the RFQ this year as the sole criteria for the Ozark Empire Fair Hay Show.
As a rule, producers should always have their hay tested. “The bottom line is, test don’t guess and make or save money with the results.
A $20 to $30 investment in a laboratory analysis can save you many times that in feed cost,” Cole said. For more information, contact your local Extension to start sampling your hay, and get on the road to nutritional and financial savings.