This year’s spring and summer weather may have affected the feed value of your hay and you won’t know by how much unless you conduct a forage test.
Nearly every bushel of corn has similar nutrient concentration, but with hay it varies considerably. The leafiness of the hay, or maturity of the plant when your hay was cut, or even how you handled the hay during raking and baling all can affect its feed value.
This year, weather conditions made things more complicated. This spring’s floods and cool, wet weather caused many folks to delay first cutting or got rain-damaged hay.
Leaf diseases, mature plants and other factors made much alfalfa lower in quality. During summer we had periods of hot and very humid weather that often caused plants to burn off their easily digested nutrients at night, leaving us with hay that looks really good but is high in fiber and low in energy.
Grass hay might be even more difficult to predict. Some fields had fewer seedheads than normal. This might give higher quality hay, but if harvest was delayed in hopes of increasing yield or if the heat affected grass quality like it affects alfalfa, grass hay quality might actually be lower. And when growth is stimulated by extra rain, plants use many nutrients for increased tonnage instead of quality.
And think about all the different forages used on prevented planting acres. Different species harvested late in the year will require a forage test to determine what the protein and TDN levels are.
A forage test can tell you the nutrient concentration in your hay, but only if the sample you collect accurately resembles your hay. Nutrient concentration varies considerably in all forages. That is why it is recommendedthat hay testing be a regular part of your operation.
For hay tests to be effective, your sample must accurately represent your hay. Reaching into a bale and pulling out a random chunk of hay will not give you a good sample. Nor will gathering a single flake of hay. The only effective method to sample long hay is by using a core sampler. If you don’t have one, you can buy one from many agricultural supply stores or catalogs.
The first thing you need to do is organize your hay into groups that all came from the same field and cutting. Then use the hay probe to collectone core each from 15 to 20 of the bales.Collect your sample from the center of the bales. Then combine all the core samples from this group into one larger sample to send to the lab.
If there is decayed or moldy material that you will discard or your animals will not eat, do not include it in your sample. That way you will have a sample that is similar to the actual diet of your livestock. However, if you plan to sell the hay, then you need to include this less desirable material in your sample to accurately represent all the hay to be sold.
This year, just like always, forage testing is important and is the only way that you can find out ahead of time what the feed value is of your hay.