Oklahoma producers find themselves out of their "comfort zone" as they go into the winter of 2012.  Many have inadequate forage supplies.   Therefore, if they were fortunate to find another source of hay to purchase, they may have forage of unknown quality and nutritive value.

Forage analysis can be a useful tool to remove some of the mystery concerning the hay that producers will feed this winter.  The high cost of protein and energy supplements are further fuel to this advice.  Testing the grass hays this year for protein and energy content will help the producer design winter supplementation programs most appropriate for the forage supply that is available.  It is hard to think of any year when forage testing was more important. 

There are several good methods of sampling hay for forage analysis.  Most nutritionists would prefer to use a mechanical coring probe made specifically for this purpose.  The coring probe is usually a stainless steel tube with a serrated, cutting edge.  It is 1 inch in diameter and is designed to fit on a 1/2 inch drill or brace.  Cordless drills make these tools quite mobile so that the hay bales to be tested do not have to be hauled to be near an electrical outlet.  The hay samples are place in paper or plastic bags for transfer to a forage testing laboratory.  Cores are taken from several bales at random to obtain a representative sample to be analyzed. 

Grab samples can also be obtained and tested.  To receive the best information, grab several samples by hand from about 6 inches into the open side of the bale or the middle third of a round bale.  Place all of the sample in the bag.  Do not discard weeds or stems, just because they look undesirable.  They are still part of the hay that you are offering to the livestock.  Be certain to label the forage samples accurately and immediately, in order for the laboratory analysis to be correctly assigned to the proper hay piles or bales.  Obviously the more samples that are sent to the laboratory for analysis, the more information can be gained.  Just as obvious is the fact that as the number of samples increase, the cost of forage testing increases.  Any of the potential nitrate accumulating hays should be tested for nitrate concentration. 

Samples can be taken to the OSU County Extension office near you and then sent to the OSU Soil, Water, and Forage Testing laboratory in Agricultural Hall on the campus at Stillwater.  The price list below gives some of the options from which producers may choose to best fit their situation.  There are other commercial laboratories available that also do an excellent job of forage analysis. 

Forage Analysis Price list from OSU Soil, Water, and Forage Testing Laboratory

Forage testing: A key decision aide in 2012

Source: Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist