Evaluating a forage analysis report | TSLN.com

Evaluating a forage analysis report

Steve Paisley

Most ranchers in the in the Mountain West would not classify 2009 as a “normal” summer. Above average rain, cool conditions, and timing of precipitation has resulted in above average grass hay production for much of the West. Forage production occurred late, and there are several operations that are just now finishing up the 2009 haying season. Much of the 2009 alfalfa produced in the region was rained on at least once before baled. All of these factors suggest to me that it will be as important as ever to sample forages and get a good estimate of forage quality this year. In order to make best use of your existing feed supplies, minimize additional feed costs, and most accurately provide adequate nutrition to the beef herd, hay sampling and analysis is critical.

Although it is often difficult to wade through all of the information provided in the laboratory forage analysis, the first, most important job is proper sampling technique. With forages, the first job is to determine how many samples need to be taken, and how many separate lots, or groups, of forage need to be sampled. Generally, any factor that could affect forage quality can be used to separate forages into lots. Certainly, hay from different cuttings should be separately sampled and compiled. Grass samples from pastures on different locations may also need to be sampled and analyzed separately. The number of lots of forage is dependent on how you plan to feed and manage the forage during the winter. Once you’ve identified your sampling lots, you need to decide how many individual samples to include in your composite sample for analysis.

Typical recommendations are to obtain and mix 10-20 ‘grab’ or core samples in the collective lot sample sent off to the lab. More is always better, and it’s not a simple task to do a good job with each sample. Always keep in mind that you’re trying to obtain a sample that will represent the whole. For hay bales, this means using a forage probe and sample as close to the center of the bale as possible. When taking pasture samples, the best approach is to mimic the locations in the pasture and the parts of the plant that the cows might actually use. Silage samples should come from freshly unloaded material only and should come from several spots throughout the pile. Close attention to representative sampling is so important that some nutritionists suggest that you’re better off to throw the sample away and simply use a book value if you’re not going to take the time and effort for a good sample.

Most ranchers in the in the Mountain West would not classify 2009 as a “normal” summer. Above average rain, cool conditions, and timing of precipitation has resulted in above average grass hay production for much of the West. Forage production occurred late, and there are several operations that are just now finishing up the 2009 haying season. Much of the 2009 alfalfa produced in the region was rained on at least once before baled. All of these factors suggest to me that it will be as important as ever to sample forages and get a good estimate of forage quality this year. In order to make best use of your existing feed supplies, minimize additional feed costs, and most accurately provide adequate nutrition to the beef herd, hay sampling and analysis is critical.

Although it is often difficult to wade through all of the information provided in the laboratory forage analysis, the first, most important job is proper sampling technique. With forages, the first job is to determine how many samples need to be taken, and how many separate lots, or groups, of forage need to be sampled. Generally, any factor that could affect forage quality can be used to separate forages into lots. Certainly, hay from different cuttings should be separately sampled and compiled. Grass samples from pastures on different locations may also need to be sampled and analyzed separately. The number of lots of forage is dependent on how you plan to feed and manage the forage during the winter. Once you’ve identified your sampling lots, you need to decide how many individual samples to include in your composite sample for analysis.

Typical recommendations are to obtain and mix 10-20 ‘grab’ or core samples in the collective lot sample sent off to the lab. More is always better, and it’s not a simple task to do a good job with each sample. Always keep in mind that you’re trying to obtain a sample that will represent the whole. For hay bales, this means using a forage probe and sample as close to the center of the bale as possible. When taking pasture samples, the best approach is to mimic the locations in the pasture and the parts of the plant that the cows might actually use. Silage samples should come from freshly unloaded material only and should come from several spots throughout the pile. Close attention to representative sampling is so important that some nutritionists suggest that you’re better off to throw the sample away and simply use a book value if you’re not going to take the time and effort for a good sample.