Why should I test my hay?

By Lisa Stewart Extension County Director Webster County

Since hay and other stored forages play a major role in winter- feeding programs, having the hay tested now will provide producers with adequate time to design a good feeding program that improves hay utilization and optimizes livestock performance.

Forage testing will provide more accurate information about the forage nutritive value and how to adjust the amount of protein and energy supplements necessary to meet animal requirements.

Producers should routinely get a representative hay analysis of all hay since forage quality can change based on for-age species and mixtures, maturity, management, harvest and storage conditions, rain damage, and insect or disease damage.

Every hay lot should be sampled separately. A hay lot is defined as hay from the same field, same cutting, harvested under the same environmental conditions, and having a uniform forage composition (grass or legume only, or grass/legume mixture).

To accurately determine the quality of the hay, a representative sample must be taken using a hay probe. Use a hay probe that is 12 to 24 inches long and 3/8 to 5/8 inches in diameter. Grabbing and pulling hay from different bales is not the correct method, and it will not provide uniform samples for analysis. Producers should sample 15 to 20 round bales depending on the number of bales in the lot, and samples should be taken in the round edge of the bale.

Sample at least 10 square bales near the center of their ends to ensure a uniform distribution of leaves and stems in the sample. If square bales have been stacked in an open barn, collect samples in both sides of the barn in a zigzag pattern or at different heights. Once the samples are obtained from each lot, mix the samples thoroughly in a bucket and store in a quarter-size plastic zip-lock bag. Hay samples are perishable, so it is important to ship or deliver the samples to the lab as soon as possible to prevent moisture loss and microbial deterioration of the sample.

Hay utilization by livestock can be improved by knowing the nutrient composition of the hay — especially crude protein, fiber and total energy.

Call the Webster County Extension office at 258-3971 for more information.

This column is made up of questions presented to the Webster County Extension Service. Please get in touch in person or by phone (258.3971) or e-mail (lisas@ext.msstate.edu) if you have questions you would like to see discussed here.