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Ruth Correll: Hay analysis provides valuable information

Ruth Correll • Updated Oct 11, 2017 at 6:00 PM

For most cattle producers, feeding some amount of hay or another harvested roughage is and will likely always be a necessary component of winter-feeding programs. Unfortunately, we rarely have a good understanding of the nutrient content – what we refer to as “quality” of our hay. We need to consider why conducting a hay forage analysis can be a valuable practice.

Would you rather be proactive by preventing a problem or reactive to that problem by managing the fallout? For example, low body condition cows will often have weak calves that do not perform well. They can’t seem to keep themselves warm, and loss of calves is higher. If we could turn back the clock, test the hay and develop a supplementation program that fills the energy and protein void, this wouldn’t be an issue. But we can’t do that. Conducting a hay analysis prior to the onset of the winter feeding season allows you to identify an issue with forage quality on the front-end. You can then put the analysis results to use by implementing an economical supplementation strategy that will prevent an issue caused by lower than expected forage quality.

Unfortunately most of us aren’t quite as good at evaluating hay quality as we think we are. Conducting a forage analysis to provide an impartial and objective evaluation of forage quality is a good investment for any beef cattle producer. For most “cow hay,” a visual appraisal is often misleading, and the analysis results that follow are often disappointing. What we thought was a good buy on “cheap” hay becomes “expensive” hay. It becomes expensive hay because the combined cost of the hay and supplemental feeds that it requires is greater than what paying a little more for higher quality hay would have been.

How much does it cost? It’s actually quite economical. Conducting a basic forage analysis through the UT Soil, Plant, and Pest Center, which is offered in cooperation with the UT Beef and Forage Center, costs $17 per sample. Rather than focusing on how much conducting a forage analysis costs, focus on how much not conducting one may cost you?

Aside from the nutritional impact on your herd, conducting a forage analysis can play a crucial role in evaluating your hay production practices. Think of it as a quality assurance test. And if you’re buying your hay, it’s an equally valuable tool that can be used to estimate the value of your purchase, or preferably, potential purchase. Having access to forage analysis results on hay before making a purchase can help you to keep that “cheap” hay from turning into “expensive” hay. Adopting forage analysis as a part of your normal management program just makes sense.  

The application period for the 2017 Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program began Oct. 1 and ends Oct. 16. Applications are accepted online and by mail. 

TAEP is a cost-sharing program. Producers fulfill requirements to defray the costs of strategic investments in their agricultural operations. The goal is to increase profitability and efficiency while promoting long-term investments in Tennessee’s agriculture and forestry industries.

Instructions to access TAEP accounts and apply for funds is available online, or you can obtain a printed application at offices for USDA Farm Service Agency, UT Extension and Farm Bureau, as well as most farm supply stores. To ensure accuracy, producers are encouraged to work with their local extension agent or TDA representative when completing the application. For more information or for an application, call 800-342-8206 or visit the TAEP webpage.

For more information, contact the UT-TSU Extension Office in Wilson County at 615-444-9584. You can also find us on Facebook or visit extension.tennessee.edu/wilson.

Ruth Correll, UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension agent in Wilson County, may be reached at 615-444-9584 or acorrell@utk.edu.

 

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