Forage testing has been around for a while but it is a practice that is under-used according to Ted Probert, a dairy specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
"Hay growers and livestock producers still ask why they should test their forage but there are several good reasons to test hay or silage for nutrient content," said Probert. "The information gained through testing can be valuable in making forage preservation and feeding decisions."
BETTER USE OF FORAGE
A top reason to test hay or silage is to learn how to make the best use of forage in a feeding operation. Probert says identifying and categorizing different cuttings by nutrient content can be useful for determining which cuttings or lots to feed to various classes of livestock on the farm.
"For example, growing or lactating animals have higher nutritional requirements than dry cows. Knowledge of the quality of your hay will help you make the best decisions as to which animals specific lots are best suited," said Probert.
Forage test results can also be used for the purpose of determining whether or not additional supplementation will be needed and if so how much and what type.
"Rations can be balanced for each group of animals present on the farm according to the forage they will be fed. This is an important step if a specific level of animal performance is expected," said Probert. "Use of forage test results, as opposed to book values, will typically make a significant difference in inclusion rates and proportions of forage and concentrate ingredients."
TESTING IS A MONITORING TOOL
Another reason, to test forage, is as a monitoring tool of the hay or silage making skills of the grower and producer.
"A forage test can provide an indisputable measure of the job a grower is doing at harvesting and preserving hay or silage," said Probert. "Such an evaluation can serve as a tool for a producer to use to make changes toward improving forage preservation practices."
Forage test results also help when buying or selling hay. For sellers, nutrient analysis can enhance the value and demand for a quality offering. Buyers can purchase with confidence when they know what they are purchasing.
SUBMITTING SAMPLE FOR TEST
When the decision is made to get a forage analysis it is very important to submit a good sample. There is a "right" way to do this, but there are a number of "wrong" ways according to Probert.
"It is important that proper sampling techniques be followed in order to assure an accurate analysis of the forage being sampled and tested," said Probert.
Once collected, forage samples should be submitted to a certified lab. A nationwide list of certified labs can be found at www.foragetesting.org.
Within a few days of sample submission, the lab will forward test results.
"If help is needed in understanding the results or using them to balance rations contact your regional extension livestock or dairy specialist," said Probert.
Source: University of Missouri Extension