Friday, February 20, 2015

Lab testing is only way to accurately evaluate hay

(Editor's Note: This article is geared toward cattle. To avoid additional supplementation, a 132-pound doe nursing twin kids would require about 4.5 pounds of hay per day that tested 11% crude protein and 48% total digestible nutrients.)

A hay probe is used to extract a sample from the middle of a round bale.

By David Burton
Civic Communications Specialist
Missouri Extensioin Service

MT. VERNON, Mo. - University of Missouri Extension specialists frequently remind farmers that the only effective way to evaluate the merits of hay or haylage is to have it tested by a lab.

"Earlier this winter, a Newton County farmer in his 70's sent me the lab results on some grassy hay he'd purchased. He commented that he'd never had a hay sample analyzed in his life. I said, 'well it's about time you did'," said Eldon Cole, livestock specialists with MU Extension.

According to Cole, the hay that was tested had 8.7 percent crude protein on a dry basis which should meet a mature, dry cow's needs. The energy or total digestible nutrient (TDN) was the low spot at only 48 percent.

"I told him it would need some additional energy supplement to meet most classes of cattle's requirements. I also was concerned the high neutral detergent fiber (NDF) level of 71 percent would limit the animal's intake," said Cole.

In a few weeks, Cole received three more lab results on hay this same farmer had raised or purchased. The protein levels ranged from 9.8 to 11.9 percent. The TDN values were 54 to 54.5 percent. NDF was acceptable for grass hay in the 61 to 64 percent range.
"As a rule the lower the NDF, the greater amount the cattle will eat," said Cole.

Since then, Cole says the client has found some fescue, barn-stored, with 12.4 percent protein and 55.5 percent TDN. The very last sample he submitted was not so good at 8.8 percent protein, 49.9 percent TDN and 69 percent NDF.

"He figured out it wasn't worth the money, and he is not buying any more of it," said Cole. "Although he'd never had hay tested in his life, I believe he is glad he did and his experience should make him a better hay evaluator in the future."

For more information, contact your local Extension agent.

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