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Can Your Hay Pass the Test?


Is Your Livestock Getting Enough Nutrition From Your Hay? Take The Test.

Taking hay samples for nutritional analysis by a lab is essential for proper cattle nutrition.According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Market News Group, only around one percent of harvested hay will make the top standard as being graded supreme, with a relative feed value index (RFV) of over 185 RFV. Other RFV categories are premium from over 170 RFV to 185 RFV, good from over 150 RFV to 170 RFV, fair from over 130 RFV to 150 RFV, and utility for anything that is under 130 RFV. Therefore good-quality hay and the ability to identify it is an essential component of any livestock production program. No matter how good you are at growing grass, there are times during the year when you are likely to encounter a grazing gap that requires feeding hay to provide your livestock with adequate nutrition.

Whether you are producing or buying your hay we recommend that you have it tested. Good quality and low-quality hay look the same in bale form. The only way to know its nutritive value for certain is through lab analysis. Forage test results will help your Southern States dealer or nutritionist develop a supplement program to meet your livestock's nutritional needs.

B. J. Sifers of Powhatan, Va., can testify to the value of having a hay analysis done. He bales orchardgrass to feed his 150 crossbred Angus cows and said that in the past, "I was feeding what looked to be pretty good hay. The cows were eating lots of it but were losing weight." Sifers had several forage tests run on his hay by his local Cooperative and was shocked by the results. "The protein of the hay was only 8 percent, and the TDN (total digestible nutrients) was only about 41 percent," said Sifers. "Lactating cows can't make it on that."

Sifers' local Cooperative recommended that Sifers feed Select 32 Liquid Protein Supplement, a molasses-based supplement with 32 percent protein. Sifers also used a Southern States mineral mix packed with essential vitamins and nutrients. "We stood the bales on end on the feed wagon and poured the supplement over them and let it soak in the hay," Sifers said. "The cows loved it, and they immediately started regaining weight. I've been having my hay tested ever since."

Adding molasses based protein and mineral supplements to hay bales before feeding produced significan cattle weight gain.

Southern States dealers, as well as Cooperative Agricultural Extension and other farm agency personnel, can take hay samples for you or show you how to do it. They also have hay probes, forms and mailing kits.

Southern States sends its forage samples to Cumberland Valley Analytical Services in Maugansville, Md., to be tested. The advantage of using a single lab is that assays will be consistent; using different labs may result in differing test results from one test to the next. Ralph Ward is the owner and manager of Cumberland Valley Analytical Services and says that producers are always eager to know the protein content of their hay. However, Ward stresses that two other measurements, fiber and TDN are equally important. Ward said that crude fiber is used primarily to characterize fiber in commercial feeds and that better predictors of forage quality are neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and acid detergent fiber (ADF). "NDF is a measure of the total fiber content of a forage. It indicates how palatable the forage is and how much an animal will eat," says Ward. "If NDF value is too high, the forage has excessive stalk or fiber and possibly was baled after it was too mature. The animal may not eat enough to meet its nutritional requirements, and its performance will drop off."

The ADF measurement predicts how digestible the forage is and how much of the forage nutrients that your livestock can use, while the TDN measurement predicts the energy value of your forage. Animal nutritionist and livestock feed specialists use protein, energy, and digestibility to determine the need for and the amount of supplementation for adequate cow nutrition. For example, a cow nursing a calf requires a minimum of two pounds of protein and 16 pounds TDN per day to provide adequate milk for her calf and to maintain her own body condition. If the cow's forage contains 8 percent protein and 50 per cent TDN, and the NDF value predicts she will only consume 20 pounds per day this means that the cow will only get 1.6 pounds of protein (20 pounds. x 8 percent) and 10 pounds of TDN (20 pounds x 50 percent). Unless the cow's fodder is supplemented, the calf may not get enough milk and will grow slower or the cow will not produce enough milk for the calf, which could result in the cow's body becoming strained leading to a loss of condition. A loss of body condition could result in the cow being slower to rebreed.

Feeding a cow a molasses-based protein supplement is the easiest way to ensure that a cow gets enough protein and energy. The sugar in molasses is a good source of energy, while the protein stimulates growth of microorganisms in the rumen that are responsible for fiber digestion. As a result, your livestock can consume more forage and better utilize the nutrients.

Your local Southern States dealer will sell you a molasses based supplement in different forms, including liquid lick tanks and 200- pound solidified, "tubs." We also produce pelleted supplements and pressed blocks for various cattle needs. Mineral content is another important factor that can be determined through forage analysis and can also be used as a tool to ensure that your livestock gets the correct balance of major minerals and micronutrients, which can influence the health and strength of a newborn calf and also the quality of the colostrum.

A standard forage test should cost no more than $18 and may prove to be a shrewd investment. Once your hay has been tested, bring the results to your local Southern States dealer to allow a representative to balance your ration for the maximum performance for your livestock.

Forage Analysis: A Sales and Revenue Tool

For many beef producers, excess hay is a good source of income. You can improve the marketability of your hay by simply providing prospective buyers with a forage analysis for a little extra cost. Your buyers will appreciate the additional information. If you can provide a piece of paper from a certified testing lab that guarantees the nutritional value of your hay, it may also mean that your hay is worth more.

As a hay producer, you may also better evaluate your progress by having an objective measurement of your hay's quality every year. This may enable you to pinpoint measures and inputs that have influenced greater production and improved the quality of your forage.


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