As livestock owners are forced to pay a premium for hay, getting forages tested and understanding the results has become more important than ever. Producers should know exactly what it is they are paying for. Without a forage analysis, ranchers may risk feeding too much or too little.
According to Chuck Coffee, Senior Consultant with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, a good-quality hay or good-quality forage would need to be 55 Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) and greater than 8 percent crude protein (CP). And the younger the animal, the higher those numbers need to be.
The most important factors of a forage analysis are crude protein, Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) and dry matter portion of the forage. The fiber portion of a plant affects intake potential and digestibility. The higher the ADF, the lower the digestibility and lower the quality. NDF is used to measure intake potential. The higher NDF, the less of the forage the animal would be able to eat. The two primary factors looked at when balancing a diet are CP of the plant and energy fraction of the plant. For a producer, the number they need to focus on is the dry matter CP value and the dry matter energy value which will be represented in the TDN portion of the test.
Though protein should be important to ranchers, it is not the only factor and livestock cannot perform to their full capacity on protein alone. They will also need an energy source as well as sufficient materials.
Requesting a mineral analysis will give a better indication of the overall feeding program. However, it is an extra cost that some feel unnecessary. Another option is to keep a complete mineral package out for livestock.
It is important to use a reputable lab for forage testing. Producers can find information about the proficiency of certain labs through the National Forage Testing Association at the following website: www.foragetesting.org. Producers are also encouraged to consult a livestock nutritionist if they do not fully understand the analysis value. Submittal forms and further instructions may be picked up in the extension office.
This year, for the first time in many years, a hay show will be included in the Texas Oklahoma Fair. Fred Hall, Texas AgriLife Extension Service county extension agent for Wichita County, says that, “In times of short supplies, producers often find poor hay is over-priced and quality hay is the better feed bargain even though it might be higher priced per ton.” This should make the hay show even more valuable to hay buyers. The “pretty hay” may not be the best buy in terms of energy values and relative feeding value. This is the reason that only the top 5 entries in each class based on lab analysis (Relative Feeding Value), will be brought to the fair for final evaluation.
Hay must have been harvested in Archer, Clay, Wilbarger or Wichita counties in Texas or Cotton, Tillman, Jefferson and Jackson counties in Oklahoma during calendar year 2012. Entries may be either conventional, rectangular bales or large packages. No haylage will be exhibited. Exhibitors are limited to two entries per class and no more than one entry per field, per cutting may be made. Final placing of each class will be based on the results of the laboratory analysis (90 percent) and subjective evaluation, texture, odor, purity and color (10 percent). Classes include small and large bales in legumes, cool season grasses, warm season grasses, grass and legume mix plus wheat hay.
The entry deadline is Aug. 24. Entry forms are available and must be returned to the extension office. For more information call the extension office at (940) 538-5042.