Importance of Forage Testing

Forage Quality

Forage crops have long been a major source of nutrients and fiber for grazing animals, and high quality forage is an essential in a complete mixed ration.  The importance of forage in a Total Mixed Ration should not be underestimated. Astute producers know that quality forage can help reduce feed costs, while at the same time enhance animal performance, thereby maximizing return on investment.  Conversely, TMR’s that include inferior forages must include supplements to redress the balance to prevent loss of productivity.  Forage testing can give the assurance that you are providing the best ration for your herd.

Several factors are looked at when determining the merit of a forage, the most obvious being protein.  The greater the protein in the plant, the more the animal has available to convert into product. However, other important factors such as NDF, ADF, and mineral levels should not be overlooked. Poorer forages with high NDF levels remain in the digestive tract longer reducing dry matter intake, and forage digestibility decreases with increasing ADF levels, resulting in greater waste. Balanced levels of mineral are also essential for the overall health and vigor of the animal. All these factors will ultimately affect productivity, and should be considered when evaluating forage.

Getting a good sample

The laboratory at NETFC offers a precise and rapid analysis of forage, haylage, and silage. We can provide you with the information you need to help optimize your feed management program.  However, the results we generate are only as good as the sample that we receive.  There is great variation in the physical form and nutritional content of hay, so to ensure that you get the most from your analysis, please make certain that you provide us with a sample that is truly representative of the entire hay lot.

The best way to obtain a good sample is to use a hay probe.  Square bales should be probed near the center of the butt end at right angles to the surface.  Round bales should be probed through the rounded surface to the center, not through the flat end. Between 10 – 20 cores per hay lot should be pooled to make a composite sample, which should be sealed in a plastic bag.

If hand-grab samples are the only option, pull hay from several areas of the bale including from inside the bale whenever possible.  Pool grab samples from a hay lot, and seal the hay in a plastic bag.

Haylage and silage samples should only be taken on completion of the fermentation process.  Again, take several samples from different sites, and only use material that does not show signs of spoilage. Pool and seal within gallon-sized plastic bags.

Unrepresentative or too-small samples are a major factor affecting accuracy of results, but by following these sampling procedures you can feel confident that your NETFC analysis gives a true assessment of the quality of your forage.

Don’t forget – the laboratory can also test for nitrates and prussic acid in forage too.  Please call for details.