For livestock producers, getting forage analyzed is an important step to ensure a herd’s dietary needs are being met. In addition, getting your forage analyzed can potentially lower production costs.
“We all know that feed costs are one of the largest components of our annual production cost. I would say people who have gone through analysis year in and year out, that it is one of the best investment returns for helping manage those costs,” said Janna Block, extension livestock systems specialist at North Dakota State University's Hettinger Research Extension Center.
Forage analysis can better help producers understand what is in the forage they are feeding. By better understanding the nutrients in their forage, they can feed their herd accordingly. For instance, they may be able to forego spending money on additional supplements their herd may not need.
“By getting your forage analyzed, producers are able to fine-tune supplements and reduce unnecessary costs,” Block said.
To get forage analyzed, a sample must be taken from a lot of hay.
“A lot of hay is the same species in the same field,” Block said.
Block recommends taking at least 20 core samples from the core of the hay in each lot, or taking samples of 10% of your total forage. To retract the core samples, a hay probe will need to be used.
However, it is important to take samples at random, and not let your unconscious bias choose which bales you take samples from.
“Try not to choose a bale based on it looking good. Instead decide you're going to take a sample 10 steps in front of you or just try to make it random because you will inevitably create bias by evaluating your forage as you go along. You’re going to think ‘I am not going to sample that bale because it looks horrible.’ Well, that bale is in there and it is going to get fed so it should be represented,” Block said.
Once the samples are collected, they can be sent to a certified laboratory, where they will evaluate the nutrient composition of the forage. While there are multiple tests that can be performed on the forage during analysis, Block recommends doing your research to see what evaluation is best for your herd. You can do this by calling the laboratories themselves and discussing prices, possible packages they may offer or even bulk discounts.
Analysis is not only good for hay, but other forages and feed being supplied to livestock as well.
“I would recommend analyzing any type of feed you're going to be utilizing for livestock. It is really good to get that analysis just to know what you're working with,” Block said.
Check with your local Extension office to see if they have forage analysis equipment available or for assistance. For a list of certified laboratories please visit: https://www.foragetesting.org.