Importance of Proper Forage Sampling

By : Tracey Erickson, SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist, Courtesy of

As dairymen and livestock caretakers we are trying to optimize the performance of our livestock, whether it is producing milk or meat. Without knowing the quality of the feedstuff or forage we are feeding, it becomes difficult to balance a ration to ensure the animal is receiving the proper amounts of needed nutrients. Secondly, it can be costly. We may be wasting money if we are including unnecessary ingredients based upon poor sample results. Or we may not get the desired performance we are expecting from a ration once it has been deemed balanced. Lastly, a reliable sample allows us to accurately compare one feedstuff to another feedstuff for price comparisons.

So how do you go about obtaining an accurate sample from your forages? Samples should represent each field and each cutting, otherwise known as a sample lot. You will want to consider additional lot separations if there are differences in species, mixture, stage of maturity, rain damage, harvest loss, insect or disease damage and season.

When should you take a sample? This is determined by your desired outcome for the feedstuff. Are you going to retain ownership and feed it? Then you may want to wait till shortly before you plan to use the feedstuff to allow for any losses that may occur due to storage or handling. If you plan to sell it, you should sample fairly close to the time of sale to guarantee accurate representation of the product being sold. If you are putting it up as haylage or silage then you will want to wait till the product has gone through fermentation and shortly before the time of inclusion in a diet.

Sampling Baled Forages

Tools that you will need to adequately sample dry hay are the following: hay probe, clean bucket, plastic gallon sealed sample bag, and a permanent marker.

If you are testing dried hay samples. This can be done by coring the bales via a hay probe. Hay probes should be placed on the side and coring towards the center in round bales or on the butt ends when coring square bales. You need to core several random bales (approximately 20 cores from small square bales per lot or samples from 8 to 10 large round bales/lot, while still meeting the minimum of total cores). A minimum of 20 cores should be taken overall. Combine the core samples in a pail, mix them together and place the cores into gallon size plastic bag and seal. Properly label the sample with a permanent marker. To learn about the proper methods of hay sampling you may want to watch the Forage Hay Sampling Method video. Hay probes may be checked out at your local SDSU Extension Regional Center.

If you are grinding forages into a pile you will want to pull your sample from the pile, taking handfuls from about 10 locations, collecting approximately 2 gallons of ground forage. Mix together in a clean container and then transferred to a gallon sealed bag, label and properly store until shipped for analysis.

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