First Things First

Unless you’ve had your hay tested, you’re just guessing about its quality.

By Becky Mills

When it’s time to test your hay, your county agent is a terrific resource to get the ball rolling. He or she can help you with the process and hopefully has a probe designed and built for the job.

The probe can get several layers deep into a bale, square or round, and bring out a sample. That allows you to test a large cross section of your hay field from within a bale.

If you or your county agent don’t have access to a hay probe, there is always the hand-grab technique. Since you strip high quality leaves off the stems when you pull the hay from the bale, this method isn’t as accurate as a probe and you have to take more samples. But, you’ve got the needed equipment at the end of your arm.

Take the sample from the middle two thirds of a round bale or middle third of a square bale. Put your open hand at least six inches into the open side of a bale, grab a handful of hay and put it in a bucket or box. Don’t pick out the weeds. They count.

Try to take at least six to eight samples from separate bales from each cutting and put them in the same bag (if the lab didn’t provide you bags, a paper lunch or grocery bag will do just fine). Then label each bag with your name, date, cutting, forage type and field from which the sample was cut. (Our experts suggest sending a separate sample for each field.)

The lab will routinely report the crude protein and total digestible nutrients (TDN) from your samples. However, if you have any reason to suspect high nitrate levels, for example if the hay was cut during or after a drought, and especially if it is bermudagrass, crabgrass, millet, sudangrass or sorghum-sudan, ask for nitrate levels, too. For that matter, during the right (or wrong) conditions, even fescue and alfalfa can have dangerously high nitrate levels, and if they are high enough, they can devastate your herd. So it doesn’t hurt to request the levels on those forages, too.


For more information on forage testing, check out the following websites:

Forage Testing.Org

Sampling Hay and Standing Forage

Read the full article, “Match Maker,” on matching hay quality to livestock needs >>