Forage Testing – Part Two


forageIn Part 1 of this series we began a discussion of one of the most important and productive tools the cattle producer has at his or her disposal – forage testing. Forage sampling and testing is not a process that is handled without some thought and planning if the results are to be truly useful in your management program. To begin, a sampling procedure has to be followed. A sampling procedure would include the following:

ONE ..........................................................................
Group hay cuttings together so they can be easily distinguished. In other words, if stacking outside or in a barn, keep all the hay from a given cutting in one place. If necessary, identify where the group stops and starts. A given cutting from a given field needs to be grouped in a specific area so you can modify your supplementation program as you change feeding from one grouping or lot to another. Also, if possible, group bales from specific parts of a given field that may have distinctive or different soil characteristics. In other words, if a given field has a section that is very sandy and another that is more clay-based, try to separate these groups of hay. Also, document or map where your groups are positioned to help you remember what is where.

TWO .......................................................................
Prepare in advance by having the correct tools. You will need a forage probe, pen and paper, clean cardboard box, Zip-lock® bags and a permanent marker. Several different forage probes exist on the market, each designed to take a 3/4 to 1 inch core, approximately 12 to 18” into a bale. Probe types include those which can be “drilled” in using a brace or a cordless drill, those which are driven in using a mallet or hammer, etc. You can find a listing of various probes along with manufacturer contact information at the national Forage Testing Association’s website: http://foragetesting.org/index.php?page=hay_probes. I personally prefer the “push-type” hay probe. It is simple, easy to use and compact. Cost of a good, push-type probe is around
$100 - $125.00.

THREE .......................................................................
Sample each cutting of hay shortly after it is baled. Sample at least 10% of the bales in a given cutting or group of no more than 80 to 100 bales. Normally it works best when the hay has been moved to place in your hay trap or in the barn. At this point go through and randomly sample 10% of the bales. After each bale is probed, empty the sample into the cardboard box. Once all the samples have been obtained, thoroughly mix the samples and remove enough to fill a quart-sized Zip-lock® bag 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full. Force as much air out of the bag as possible by rolling from the bottom and seal.

If you are sampling wrapped silage (haylage) bales, be sure to carry a pocket knife and a roll of duct tape with you. Make a small slit in the plastic (do not tear the hole), probe the bale through the slit and then tape over securely with the duct tape. Air is silage/haylage’s worst enemy so sealing over the opening as quickly as possible after sampling is important. Once you have the silage sample bagged, as noted above, force as much air out as possible. With high moisture samples (this would include grass clippings), if they will not be shipped immediately, squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible and place them into the freezer until you are ready to ship.

Label the sample with the permanent marker listing your name, the date, location and cutting. Once all your samples have been collected in this manner they can be placed in a large envelope or small box for shipment to the lab. Mailing them priority or express is preferable.

FOUR .......................................................................
With your samples, send along a cover letter listing your name and address along with a list of the samples you are including and include for each sample the same data as written on the sample bag. This simply helps the lab keep track of your samples. The lab may have submission forms or bags. In some cases they may have postage paid bags. You need to get these from the lab in advance of taking your samples.

FIVE ........................................................................
There are a fairly large number of forage testing labs and likely one fairly close to your location. The National Forage Testing Association has a list of certified forage testing labs. Depending on the lab you use, your test results may take 7 days to 2 weeks to get to you from the day you mail them. The lab can generally email or fax the results to you.

Once you receive these results, closely evaluate the data. From this information you can determine which forage is of better quality and which hay needs to be fed to given groups of cows at any given point in time. This also tells you that when you start feeding a different grouping or cutting of hay you may have to increase or decrease supplementation.

Conclusion .......................................................................
Forage tests can provide you with a huge amount of valuable data to help in your decision making process and is always a good investment if performed carefully and judiciously. The time and dollars you spend on obtaining this information can save you countless dollars down the road.