Rating the appearance, texture and odor of hay and silage samples is a half-day job once a year for three Wisconsin county Extension agents.

They’re the World Forage Analysis Superbowl judges, responsible for visual evaluations that account for 30% of the final scores in seven contest categories. This year’s judges, who volunteered their time, were Ken Barnett, Marathon County; Nick Schneider, Winnebago County; and Eric Ronk, Calumet County.

Chosen by superbowl coordinator Dan Undersander, they work individually, then their average score for each entry contributes to its final placing.

“It’s blind judging,” says Under-sander, University of Wisconsin Extension forage agronomist. “The judges don’t know where the samples are from, not even what state they’re from.”

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They examine the entries to make sure “good and normal” production practices were used. “We’re looking for those things that make good hay or silage that are not determined by a standard forage analysis,” says Undersander.

They check that entries were harvested at correct crop maturity stages and that haylage and corn silage samples were chopped at recommended particle lengths. They make sure hay samples were taken from bales, as is required by superbowl rules.

“And we look at the texture of the hay, because if it’s very brittle and stemmy, you’ll have a lot of bunk refusal.”

If weeds or other foreign matter are found, points are deducted. One of this year’s alfalfa entries was disqualified because it contained corn grain.

“We get one of those every once in awhile,” says Undersander.

If the judges detect a musty odor in hay, that signals that it was baled too wet. They smell silage entries to make sure they were properly fermented.

“In haylage and corn silage, we’re looking for the smell of lactic acid, maybe a little bit of acetic if they used a buchneri inoculant.”

This year’s judging took place at Dairyland Laboratories’ new satellite facility at De Pere, WI. Done after the lab analyses were completed, it was limited to the highest-quality entries in each category. Judges’ scores ranged from 70 to 98 out of 100 possible points for 20 finalists each in the dairy hay, commercial hay and haylage categories, plus 10 each in grass hay, baleage, standard corn silage and BMR corn silage.

Read more from Hay & Forage Grower:

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