June 27, 2022

From the Pastures — Mau: Test your forages

Well, by now most people are feeding hay, unless you’re real good at stockpiling your grass ahead of the fall time. I’m feeding hay. I decided to test the three types of hay I have on hand and was shocked by the test results. A hay test is a simple and inexpensive way to know exactly what is in your forage. A basic hay test costs around $15, and the ones I get have 23 lines of information on it. I only need four of those lines because I’m not a dairyman and don’t understand them anyway.

The three classes of hay I tested were: A. 2-year old net-wrapped, big round bales stored outside the whole time on pallets; B. This year’s grass baleage made June 2, 2019 — first cutting; and C. This year’s dry big round hay bales made the middle of August — first cutting; neighbor came to me and asked me to make the hay off of her ground.

Hay A and B are off the same fields just a year apart. Hay B couldn’t be cut sooner because of the wet spring. We cut it at 10 a.m., started baling and wrapping at noon at 65% moisture and it was raining again by dark. Given that hay B was headed out and crotch-high at cutting, I was hoping the ensiling process would work some magic on it and make it better than it turned out. That didn’t happen.

Moisture was acceptable for the dry hay at 18% and 65% for the baleage. The crude protein, on a dry basis, was average to low: A at 13%, B at 9% and C at 7%. Relative Feed Value is a calculated index that rates forage for its overall digestibility and intake potential. This ratio allows a value comparison between various types and sources of forage. Average full bloom alfalfa has a RFV of about 100. Poorer quality forages would be below 100. Average quality beef cow hay runs 95 to 120 RFV. Low quality with supplementation required is 95 and less.

My best was A at 91, then B and C at 80 RFV. I started supplementing their feed two days later. I was depending on hay B to be of a higher quality because I have the most bales of it. When I was ordering, the feed the salesman told me everyone has poor hay — they just don’t know it yet. He said a dairyman made good, green, leafy brome hay this year, and when he tested it, the test came back at 5% protein. So, he tested some straw he had, and it tested higher than the hay. Average brome hay protein is 10%, and 13% is good protein the salesman said.

So, before you have a train wreck, please test your forages.