Now is the time to test your hay

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Hay field
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

Now is the time of year to take hay samples to determine quality. Without knowing the quality of the hay you have on hand, you do not truly know if you need to provide supplements to meet livestock requirements. 

Maybe you sell hay and want to have test results to show your buyers. On a year like this one when rain has been plentiful, it can be difficult to make hay when it should be cut for optimum quality. 

Testing now will give you plenty of time to plan ahead for winter and ensure you have enough supplemental feed on hand.

Hay can be tested with a hay probe and a drill. On round bales, drill into the round side of the bale. This gets the multiple layers that make up the bale to get an average of the hay.

Square bales should be taken from the end for the same reason. Hay should be sampled from 10-12 bales and mixed up to make up one sample.

Hay can be sampled based on cuttings, different fields, different crop species. The number of samples you take will depend on the variation in the hay you have on hand.

When you get results, you may need assistance interpreting what all of the numbers mean. You can take the results to a nutritionist and they determine the amount of supplement, if any, is needed. Your hay may be good enough to get the livestock through the winter on its own. 

You can also come up with a plan of when to feed each lot of hay. The worst hay can be fed in the fall. The best hay should be saved for the coldest days in the winter or after the cow scalve in the spring. 

If the quality of your hay is marginal, and you want to reduce the amount of supplement that has to be purchased, there are some other practices that can be carried out. 

Grazing later into the fall is obviously going to provide the livestock with better nutrition. If forages can be stockpiled for late fall or winter grazing, the livestock will better maintain their body condition. Another option is early weaning of spring calves to give the cows more time to increase their body condition.

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