Cattle producers should have purchased hay quality-tested to protect their livestock investment, suggests Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University (OSU) Cooperative Extension emeritus livestock specialist.

“Forage analysis can be a useful tool to remove some of the mystery concerning the hay that producers will feed this winter,” he says. “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.”

Hay sampling methods include a mechanical coring probe made usually of a 1”-diameter stainless-steel tube with a serrated cutting edge. It can fit on a ½” drill or brace.

“Cordless drills make these tools quite mobile so that the hay bales to be tested do not have to be hauled near an electrical outlet,” says Ray Huhnke, OSU Extension ag engineer. “Cores are taken from several bales at random to obtain a representative sample to be analyzed.” After samples are bagged in paper or plastic, they can be transferred to a forage-testing laboratory.

Grab samples also can be obtained and tested. For accurate sampling, grab several samples by hand from about 6” into the open side of the bale or the middle third of a round bale.

“Be sure to place the entire sample in the bag,” says Cody Linker, Lincoln County Extension ag educator. “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.”

Producers should label samples accurately and immediately in order for the laboratory analysis to be correctly assigned to the proper hay piles or bales, he adds.

“Obviously the more samples that are sent to the laboratory for analysis, the more information can be gained,” he says. That also increases forage-test costs. Linker also reminds producers to test potential nitrate-accumulating hays for nitrate concentration.

Samples can be taken to any OSU Cooperative Extension county office, and will then be sent to the OSU Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory.

“Another option is for producers to take their samples to commercial laboratories that also do an excellent job of forage analysis,” Selk says.