The Why and How of Testing Hay

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With the winter feeding season quickly approaching, now is the time to develop a feeding plan. The best place to start when developing a feeding plan is by testing the available feedstuff, which is hay in the case of many cattle, horse, and small ruminant producers. Having hay analyzed for quality (nutritive value) helps determine if the hay will meet the nutrient requirements of the animals, and can also indicate their possible intake amounts.

The three main indicators of quality in forages are crude protein (CP), total digestible nutrients (TDN), and neutral detergent fiber (NDF). TDN is essentially energy content, and is also sometimes referred to as digestible energy (DE). NDF can be used to estimate voluntary intake because it is indicative of the amount of “bulk” or “fill” the forage will provide. Because animals of different species and at different production stages have varying nutrient requirements, it’s important to be familiar with what the requirements of your animals are.

Because the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Feed and Forage Laboratory is in the process of moving facilities, an agreement was reached with Cumberland Valley Analytical Services in Pennsylvania in order to allow North Carolina producers to continue to submit forage samples for analysis during this move. The usual $10/sample fee is waived during this transition. For more information on submitting samples during the transition, please read this letter. Our office does have a hay probe available for rent to assist in the sampling process. Agents across the state have also developed tutorial videos about testing hay.

As always, please contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Stokes County at 336-593-8179 with any questions.