Hay Testing is a Valuable Management Tool

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When it gets cooler and spring and summer grasses stop growing, unless ranchers plant winter grass, they have to feed their cattle hay that they’ve grown or purchased. And just like when you’re planning meals for your family, it’s not only important to know how much they’re eating, but also that it’s nutritious. Tony Provin is a Professor and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Soil Specialist.

“The value of sampling hay is information. It allows the producer to understand what the nutrient value of their hay is. So on the cattle side, we have everything from lower requirements for our bulls. We’re not actively trying to put weight on them. They’re not carrying a calf or anything that a wet cow would have, all the way down to feeder steers and feeder calves.”

Provin says in general hay should be somewhere between ten and thirteen percent crude protein, and while protein is important, energy is of equal importance.

“There’s also the energy requirements. Traditionally we measure that through a term called TDN, Total Digestible Nutrients, and there we’re often looking for numbers in the upper fifties. That is the energy, the calories to maintain those animals. The energy is a reflection of how fast the crop grew, and our timeliness at producing, cutting the hay and producing and caring for the hay that we had produced.”

Provin says that as the grass plants move from a vegetative state into a reproductive state, digestibility is negatively impacted.

“As those warm-season grasses go into a reproductive stage of putting a seed head up, internally they’re having secondary cell wall development and the cell wall development is material that is being put into the plant cells to give it structure to hold up that seed head. And it reduces the digestibility of the overall mass of feed. So we can go from a fairly high energy, highly digestible forage, and within a few days or a week go to something that is substantially lower in caloric value, maybe as much as thirty or forty percent reduction.”

Having hay tested can point out the need to change some management practices, and of course, a dry place to store hay will also help preserve its nutrient value.