At this time of year, many producers are starting to make plans to switch from pastures and fields to forage such as prairie hay to keep their livestock healthy through the winter to come. One of the best things that can be done is to have your forage tested. That way you know what its nutritional composition is, and if you will need to add any supplements to their diet to satisfy their requirements. The first step to determine this is sampling the forage. Here are the recommended principles for proper hay sampling to be able to get the best sample to the lab for the most accurate information back for your use.
First of all, you want to sample a single “lot” of hay at a time. A hay lot should be identified which is a single cutting, a single field and variety, and generally be less than 200 tons. Do not mix cuttings, fields or types of hay, as all of these factors are variable, and will lead to an incorrect analysis.
Make sure that you sample the forage either close to feeding it out, or selling it. Hay is considered to be quite stable at 90 percent dry matter, so if you test right after it is baled the hay will not be dry enough for an accurate test.
Coring the hay bales properly and with the correct device is also important. A Sharp probe that is 12”-24” and 3/8-3/4 in diameter is important for a good sample. We have a core sampler in the Extension office for check out if you need one. Take cores randomly at a 90 degree angle, 10-12” deep from the hay and don’t avoid or choose bales because they look good or bad. The sample should be a correct representation of the lot. Make sure you get a minimum of 20 cores for a composite sample for accurate representation. With small bales, one sample per bale taken between the strings (not at the edge) with 20 bales total will be correct. For larger round bales, two to three cores per bales, taken from the middle (not ends) of the bale sampled from ten or twelve bales will work. Make sure you get at least ½ pound total for your sample. If you do not get this from 20 cores, then you may need to use a different sampler.
Seal the combined 20 core sample in a plastic bag and protect it from heat. Double bagging is beneficial, especially for dry matter measurements. Do not let samples be exposed to excess sun or heat, and deliver the sample to the lab as soon as possible. Make sure you choose a certified lab for your testing, or bring in into the Extension office for us to send off for you. Results should be back within a few weeks so that you know what you are feeding out to your livestock.
Alicia Boor is the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Barton County K-State Research and Extension. You can contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 620-793-1910