Testing For Hay Quality

Testing For Hay Quality

August 22, 2008

Nutrient concentration can vary considerably in hay, due to a variety of causes.These can include leafiness of the hay, maturity of the plant when the hay was cut, or even how the hay was handled during raking and baling.

This year weather conditions have complicated things. Wet weather in many areas this spring caused folks to delay first cutting. Leaf diseases, mature plants, and other factors made much alfalfa lower in quality, but some fields had the second growth already growing when the first cut was taken, keeping feed value relatively high. This summer hot weather caused plants to burn off easily digested nutrients at night, leaving hay that looks good but is high in fiber and low in energy.

Grass hay might be even more difficult to predict. Some fields have fewer seedheads than normal. This might give higher quality hay, but if harvest was delayed in hope of increasing yield or if the heat affected grass quality like it affects alfalfa, grass hay quality might actually be lower. And when growth is stimulated by extra rain, many nutrients are used for tonnage instead of quality.

This year forage testing may be even more important to determine the feed value of hay before it's used as feed.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist