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

By : Mary Drewnoski, Nebraska Extension Beef Systems Specialist

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
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