2017-10-05 / Editorial Page

Hay testing - “Priceless”

By Brian Tankersley Lincoln County Extension Service

Many of you remember the credit card commercial about some memories and experiences that are “priceless”. Hay testing may not qualify for the “priceless” memory or experience but it can be one of a producer’s best returns on investment. Feed cost adds to the producer’s expense line items more than any other item when you combine the cost of pasture fertilization and management, hay purchase or hay production, and supplemental feed and minerals. In the southeast, producers depend on hay as their major winter feed­ing source and with the different plant species and hay manage­ment strategies there are tremen­dous variations in quality of hay produced. Knowing the hay value through forage testing can help a producer to know what nutrients are provided by their hay or what may be needed. Forage and feed producers know that excellent quality hay dictates value through increased milk or meat production or reduced supplements needs. Accurate hay testing provides the producer, the seller and the buyer with accurate, valuable informa­tion. Can you afford not to know your hay value? The University of Georgia Agricultural Services Laboratory conducts forage analy­sis testing. Samples can be sent in through the Lincoln County Ex­tension Service for a cost of $15- $20.

The importance of hay testing is well proven so what are the steps needed to pull a proper hay sam­ple?

1. Identify a single ‘lot’ of hay.

This is a key first step to proper hay sampling, and one frequently ignored. A hay lot should be identi­fied which represents a single cut­ting, a single field and variety, and generally be less than 200 tons.

2. Proper sample timing.

It is important to sample the hay either as close to feeding, or as close to point of sale as pos­sible. Dry matter measurements are especially subject to changes after harvest and during storage, but other measurements may also change.

3. Choose a sharp, well-designed coring device.

Use a sharp coring device 3/8- 3/4” diameter. Never send in flakes or grab samples as it is nearly im­possible for these samples to repre­sent a hay lot. The Lincoln County Extension Service has a sampling probe that can be utilized.

4. Sample at random.

The sampler should walk around the stack as much as possible and sample bales at random.

This is sometimes difficult since all of the bales are not available to the sampler because of stor­age. However, the sampler should make every attempt to sample in a random fashion—this means not to bias either for or against any bales in the stack.

5. Take enough cores.

We recommend a minimum of 20 cores for a composite sample to represent a hay lot.

With small bales, sample 1 core per bale on at least 20 bales; with larger bales, take 2-3 cores per bale in the center of the ends, sam­pling at least 10 bales. Sample butt ends of hay bale, between strings or wires, not near the edge. Probe should be inserted at 90º angle, 12”-18” deep. With round bales, sample towards the middle of bale on an angle directly towards the center of the bale. Sampling should be done so that about ½ lb. of sample is produced.

6. Handle samples correctly.

Place the sample in a well-sealed plastic zip lock bag and protect from heat.

Don’t allow samples to be ex­posed to excess sun (e.g. in the cab of a pickup truck).

If you should have questions about hay testing feel free to con­tact the Lincoln County Extension Service.

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