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Published July 30, 2012, 11:22 AM

Time to test forage?

If you haven’t been testing the forage you feed to livestock, this might be the year to start.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

If you haven’t been testing the forage you feed to livestock, this might be the year to start.

Many livestock producers across the Upper Midwest will be feeding an unusual blend of high- and poor-quality forage this year. That reflects widespread drought, which has resulted in a small but generally high-quality 2012 crop, as well as a stockpile of poor-quality hay left over from the bumper 2011 hay crop.

Blending good and poor hay in the right mixture can be tricky, experts say.

“It pays to forage test,” says J.W. Schroeder, dairy extension specialist with North Dakota State University.

He recommends that producers check with the National Forage Testing Association in Avoca, Neb. The organization, a joint effort of the American Forage and Grassland Council, the National Hay Association and forage testing laboratories, works to improve the accuracy of forage testing and build grower confidence in testing animal feeds.

Brian Shreve, the association’s data manager, tells Agweek that, in forage testing, producers use probes to take core samples from their hay. The samples are sent to laboratories where the hay is tested, typically for moisture content, protein level and fiber content. More detailed tests can be conducted, too.

Producers almost always have the test results back within two weeks and sometimes within a few days.

The prices charged by testing labs vary and producers should check with a lab in their area to see what its prices are, Shreve says.

A list of labs certified by the National Forage Testing Association is available on the association’s website:

The biggest challenge facing livestock producers who test their forage, particularly ones doing it for the first time, is taking sufficient samples.

“You really want 12 to 20 cores to get a good sampling,” Schroeder says.

All the samples should come from a single hay lot, or hay from the same field and cut, baled and stored under the same conditions.

Here are two more sources of online information on forage testing:

•Purdue University Extension has a list of links to other online forage information websites: www.agry.purdue.


•South Dakota State University Extension has a YouTube video on how to test hay forage: