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Douglas County

The Importance of Forage TestingHay and Sunset

Winter is here and that means producers are feeding more hay to their livestock. There is a large range of hay quality depending on growing conditions, harvest circumstances, maturity and storage methods. Due to the variability, it is important for producers to accurately sample and test their hay to better understand its nutritive value of feeding. Guessing or using the previous year’s nutrient values can be costly due to the possibility of developing rations that underfeed or overfeed their stock.

Collecting an accurate hay sample

When collecting hay for testing, make sure you are getting samples from the same forage lot. A forage lot is hay that was cut at the same time, the same location and stored in similar conditions. When these conditions vary, feed should be designated and sampled as a separate lot. It is also best to sample hay close to the time you plan on feeding. This allows you to accurately create feed rations for each forage lot to best fit your herd.

Next, your hay should be taken using a forage probe. The probe should enter the bale 12-18 inches. You can borrow a forage probe from your local extension office. Do not use your hand to grab hay from the outside of the bale, as that is not an accurate representation of the forage. When using the probe, be cautious of the probe heating up due to friction, as you do not want to start a hay fire.

Select probe samples from 15-20 bales in the same lot. Once you have collected the samples, combine and mix them. You should have close to 1 pint. Put the sample in a plastic bag and seal tightly to maintain moisture. On the bag write down the forage lot number, your operations name, and date sampled. When you receive your test results from the lab, this will help you identify the proper lot for correct feeding.

Ship the sample immediately to prevent moisture loss and microbial deterioration. Mail the samples early in the week to minimize the shipping time. Avoid shipping over the weekend or holidays.

For more information about forage testing please visit the Douglas County’s Extension office website or contact Mallory Meek, Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, at 785-843-7058 or mgmeek@ksu.edu.