Cattle production is an important economic enterprise in Pontotoc County.  The largest expense for cattle producers relates to feeding animals and hay production.  Hay quality testing is an important step to make the most of the investment associated with feeding cattle.  The benefits of hay testing and proper hay sampling procedures will be discussed. 

Sources for this article include the Mississippi State Chemical Lab forage collection brochure and the Mississippi State University Extension Service publication “Hay Testing and Understanding Forage Quality”.

Why test hay?

The primary reason for cattle producers to test hay is to reduce feeding costs and to increase profits.  Hay testing increases net profits for cattle producers by avoiding costly mistakes associated with underestimating or overestimating the nutrients needed by their animals.    

Hay testing allows livestock producers to determine the quality of the forage they are feeding to their animals.  Hay test results detail the amount of protein, energy, and other nutrients that are in hay.  This information allows farmers to know the amount of supplemental protein and energy that need to be fed to their animals in addition to hay.  This feeding strategy will provide the exact nutrition needed to maintain animal health, performance, and growth rates at the lowest cost.  


Collecting Hay Samples

It is important to get a representative hay sample for each hay lot.  A hay lot is identified by the field the hay was harvested from, the time of harvest, and the weather conditions at harvest. The quality can vary greatly between hay lots.   

Sampling by pulling hay by hand from various bales will not yield satisfactory results.  The use of a hay probe increases the accuracy of the results. There is a hay probe available at the Pontotoc Extension office to be checked out for use.  

The following steps should be followed to properly sample hay. When sampling round hay bales, choose fifteen to twenty average looking bales.  Insert the hay probe eighteen to twenty-four inches into round outside edge of the bale. If the round bales are stored outdoors, the damaged outer layer should be removed before sampling. The sampled hay should be placed in a bucket, mixed thoroughly, and placed in a gallon zip-lock bag. The zip-lock bag should be labeled with your name, location, date, address, and the type of hay sampled.  

The hay sample should be brought to the nearest Mississippi State University Extension Service office for shipping.  The sample will be sent to the Mississippi State Chemical Lab, located on the MSU Campus, for analysis. The standard forage analysis costs $15. The standard analysis includes values for dry matter, crude protein, acid detergent fiber, fat, ash, lignin, and estimates for calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium.  A more detailed analysis that includes values for protein, ash, fat, fiber, moisture, and total digestible nutrients costs $65.

Hay sampling is a profitable way for cattle producers to take the guesswork out of feeding their animals during the winter months.

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