ATHENS, Ohio – The fall season can be a good time for livestock producers to evaluate hay quality to ensure that animals are receiving the proper nutrient requirements.
Rory Lewandowski, an Ohio State University extension educator for Athens County, said hay quality should be evaluated for a number of reasons. Animal performance is dependent upon the nutrients hay can provide and the amount of nutrients needed depends upon a variety of factors, from animal age to level of milk production to environmental conditions. And hay quality can vary depending on forage species, stage of maturity, moisture content, soil fertility and storage conditions.
“The livestock owner must match the needs of his/her livestock with the hay or forage that is available,” said Lewandowski. “The only way to do this is to evaluate the hay.”
Evaluations. Hay can be evaluated either visually or through chemical analysis of nutrients and fiber. Visual appraisal takes into account the stage of harvest, the leafiness of the hay, the color of the hay, the odor and softness of the hay, and the amount of weeds, dirt and trash that might be present in the hay.
“Visual estimates of hay quality can be useful to the livestock owner as far as determining general uses for various lots of hay. Hay that is harvested at an early maturity stage with few seed heads, that is very soft and pliable with few weeds, and that is very leafy with a clean odor and a bright green color is generally a high quality hay,” said Lewandowski.
“Conversely, a hay that is very “stemmy” and brittle with lots of seed heads, interspersed with weeds throughout the bale, and having a yellow to brownish color combined with a musty odor is a low quality hay.”
Set aside. Lewandowski recommends livestock producers set aside high quality hay for those animals in need of high nutrient requirements, such as young animals and females in the last one-third of gestation or in the early stage of lactation. Poor quality hay should be reserved for animals with lower nutrient requirements, such as females in early gestation after weaning or animals that could use additional fiber in their diets.
There are limitations to relying just on visual assessment to determine the quality of a hay species.
“It is often difficult to distinguish between hays of a medium quality. Also, a visual determination will not provide specific quantitative information,” said Lewandowski. “That’s where chemical analysis becomes useful.”
Chemical analysis generally provides information regarding the moisture content of the hay, the crude protein value, some measurement of fiber content, an estimated energy value, and possibly some mineral content percentages.
“The only way to know specifically what value the hay has as a feedstuff is to get a laboratory analysis,” said Lewandowski.
Recommendations. He offers the following recommendations when acquiring hay samples for analyses:
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