The first cuttings of spring hay were made last week with more to follow in the coming week as weather allows. Motorists can be assured to meet hay equipment on the road in the coming week anytime a forecast of four consecutive days of good weather is given. This week is a reminder that a hay sample can not only provide a report card on how good of job we have done with our forage crop, but it can also help make preparations for winter feeding of livestock. Hay testing continues to be free through the Adair County Cooperative Extension Service as funds remain available.
To collect a hay sample, borrow a forage probe from the Adair County Cooperative Extension Service. Cores should be taken from about 20 bales from a lot. Samples will be shipped to a private lab, with results available within about 10 days.
To address the major nutrient needs of livestock, the dry matter, crude protein, total digestible nutrients (TDN), and neutral detergent fiber (NDF) can be utilized to formulate basic rations to make sure livestock receive adequate protein and energy. Using NDF, we can also determine how much of the forage livestock will consume in a day. This year, it is possible that we see the crude protein levels of forage lower than common due to increased fertilizer prices forcing farmers to reduce fertilizer applications.
Would you like to cut costs on mineral supplementation? A hay test can help with that as well. Several minerals are routinely analyzed during a forage test. One notable mineral is phosphorus. Each 1% of phosphorus contributes to $1.50 to $2.00 on the cost of a bag of mineral. Forage testing can reveal how much phosphorus is being provided by the hay and determine how much phosphorus should be supplemented.
Moisture content revealed by a forage test lets us know if we were patient enough in allowing the hay to cure. Excessive moisture content is not only a detriment to hay storage but will also result in a reduction of crude protein when the bales heat.
Another interesting tidbit we can learn about our hay from a forage test is approximately how much dirt is in the hay! Rain, low cutting height, excessively dry conditions, aggressive tedding and raking can all contribute to a large amount of dirt going inside the hay bale. We can determine this by looking at the ash content of the hay.
Ash content is simply the total mineral content of the hay. Grass hay typically contains about 6% ash. Ash levels beyond that usually indicate that the hay contains dirt. For example, if a forage test reveals an ash content of 10%, likely 4% of the sample contained dirt. Therefore every 1,000 pound bale of hay contains 40 pounds of dirt. Likewise, a cow consuming 25 pounds of the hay daily is eating 1 pound of dirt daily.
Best of luck getting your hay up early, dry, and without dirt! For more information, contact the Adair County Cooperative Extension Service at (270) 384-2317.
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