Do Your Herd and Your Bank Account a Favor - Test Your Hay!

Do Your Herd and Your Bank Account a Favor - Test Your Hay!

tester in a hay bale

Every year I get calls for help with balancing rations and most don’t have a hay analysis. All hay of the same species is NOT created equal.  For instance, smooth bromegrass hay can range from 48 to 58% total digestible nutrients (TDN) with crude protein (CP) ranging from 6 to 11% CP. This can be the difference between a growing heifer losing 0.25 lb/d or gaining 0.37 lb/d. If you were targeting the heifer gaining 1 lb/d you would need to supplement between 1.5 and 3 lb/d of dried distillers to reach this goal.   At $150/ton for dried distillers, this would be a difference in cost of $10 vs. $20 per heifer for a 90 day period. Now multiply that by the number of heifers you have and the costs can add up quickly. If you don’t know the quality of your hay, how do you pick?

Do you choose the lower rate and potentially have heifers that are not ready to breed? Or pick the higher rate and potentially spend money you don’t need to. The easy answer is neither. If you know the quality of your hay, you can make the right decision in terms of supplementation level and not spend more money than you need to.

Likewise, not all alfalfa is the same.  Alfalfa can range from 11 to 18% CP and 45 to 60% TDN. If you are using alfalfa as the main hay source prior to turn out on grass for mature cows post calving, the higher quality alfalfa will result in cows maintaining body condition, but the poorer quality alfalfa will have them losing 2/3 of a body condition score a month.  While one can take the “feed it and see approach”, plane of nutrition post calving can have huge impacts on breeding success. Thus, this gamble can have large financial impacts.

Also, last year’s hay tells you nothing about this year’s hay. The growing conditions and timing of harvest are unlikely to be replicated.  This year was not very good for getting hay up in a timely manner. I would suspect that more supplementation will be needed this year due to the greater rainfall and harvest of forage in a more mature state. However, you will not know whether this is true unless a forage analysis is conducted.

I hope I have convinced you that spending the time and money to test hay is well worth the investment. Now it is time for me to tell you how to get a sample that will be useful. The biggest source of error when it comes to hay analysis is the sample that was obtained. A grab sample from a bale is not very useful as it represents about 1 square foot in the field.  It is important to use a hay probe to get a sample. For more information on hay sampling, check out the article Test, Don’t Guess-sampling and testing hay. Still want to know more? Check out the webinar “How to Take a Representative Forage Sample”.

Don’t have a hay probe? That is okay. You can borrow one from Nebraska Extension. The following Extension Offices have a hay probe available to be loaned out.  Want to save yourself from making a special trip to town each year to borrow one? Then buy your own. You can get one for a couple hundred dollars. This cost is easy to make back in supplement saved or animal performance gained.  The National Forage Testing Association has a list of hay probes and companies that sell them.  

County

Email

Phone

Antelope County

antelope-county@unl.edu

402-887-5414

Boone County

boone-county@unl.edu

402-395-2158

Box Butte County

boxbutte-county@unl.edu

308-762-5616

Boyd County

boyd-county@unl.edu

402-775-2491

Brown County

bkr1@unl.edu

402-387-2213

Buffalo County

buffalo-county@unl.edu

308-236-1235

Burt County

burt-county@unl.edu

402-374-2929

Cedar County

cedar-county@unl.edu

402-254-6821

Cherry County

cherry-county@unl.edu

402-376-1850

Cheyenne County

cheyenne-county@unl.edu

308-254-4455

Custer County

custer-county@unl.edu

308-872-6831

Dawes County

dawes-county@unl.edu

308-432-3373

Dawson County

dawson-county@unl.edu

308-324-5501

Deuel County

deuel-county@unl.edu

308-874-2705

Dixon County

dixon-county@unl.edu

402-584-2234

Dodge County

dodge-county@unl.edu

402-727-2775

Dundy County

dundy-county@unl.edu

308-423-2021

Fillmore County

fillmore-county@unl.edu

402-759-3712

Frontier County

frontier-county@unl.edu

308-367-4424

Furnas County

furnas-county@unl.edu

308-268-3105

Gage County

gage-county@unl.edu

402-223-1384

Garden County

garden-county@unl.edu

308-772-3311

Garfield, Loup, Wheeler County

glw@unl.edu

308-346-4200

Harlan County

harlan-county@unl.edu

308-928-2119

Hayes County

hayes-county@unl.edu

308-286-3312

Hitchcock County

hitchcock-county@unl.edu

308-334-5666

Holt County

holt-county@unl.edu

402-336-2760

Hooker County

central-sandhills@unl.edu

308-645-2267

Howard County

howard-county@unl.edu

308-754-5422

Jefferson County

jefferson-county@unl.edu

402-729-3487

Johnson County

johnson-county@unl.edu

402-335-3669

Keya Paha County

bkr1@unl.edu

402-387-2213

Knox County

knox-county@unl.edu

402-288-5611

Lancaster County

lancaster@unl.edu

402-441-7180

Lincoln, Logan, McPherson County

lincoln-county@unl.edu

308-532-2683

Merrick County

merrick-county@unl.edu

308-946-3843

Morrill County

morrill-county@unl.edu

308-262-1022

Nance County

nance-county@unl.edu

308-536-2691

Nemaha County

nemaha-county@unl.edu

402-274-4755

Platte County

platte-county@unl.edu

402-563-4901

Rock County

bkr1@unl.edu

402-387-2213

Saline County

saline-county@unl.edu

402-821-2151

Saunders County

saunders-county@unl.edu

402-624-8030

Sheridan County

sheridan-county@unl.edu

308-327-2312

Sioux County

sioux-county@unl.edu

308-668-2428

Thayer County

thayer-county@unl.edu

402-768-7212

Thomas County

central-sandhills@unl.edu

308-645-2267

Webster County

webster-county@unl.edu

402-746-3417

York County

york-county@unl.edu

402-362-5508

Tags: