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Even good grass hay still shy on protein

For the second year in a row select hay samples from the Morgan County Fair were subjected to the ultimate judge — forage analysis. The idea was to repeat the experiment from last year, where bales selected by the judge were tested to see how tough it is to judge hay by looking. Several 4-H’ers at county fairs had never heard of forage testing.

Chris Parker, Morgan County ag educator, believes that every lot of hay should be tested. That’s how you know what type of animal and situation it’s suited for. Otherwise, ultimately you’re guessing, and looks can be deceiving, he notes. Parker cored samples exhibited at the fair and sent them to Litchfield Labs in Michigan for analysis.

The next several issues will discuss results from those tests.

Where grass hay fits

The easiest conclusion to make from results of several samples was that grass hay, under most circumstances, just can’t match mixed hay or alfalfa for protein content or relative feed value. The latter is calculated based on a combination of factors, including protein content, fiber and energy supplying capability of the hay.

Relative feed value for all grass samples was below 100. The RFV for one legume sample was 145. In forage sampling, an RFV of 100 is the base.

No one says grass hay isn’t valuable. It just needs to be matched up to animals that don’t require lots of protein or energy. For example, grass hay can be an inexpensive way to help beef cattle get through the winter. By testing the hay, you know whether it needs to be supplemented or not.

Hay results

The champion grass hay at two levels and a second-place sample were tested. Key factors were crude protein, crude fiber, total digestible nutrients, or TDN, and relative feed value.

As the table notes, two of three samples posted 13% or better protein, very good for grass hay. The problem with grass hay can be fiber content. Actually, all three samples posted similar RFV numbers. As a group, all three posted the lowest RFV values of all samples tested.

Admittedly, the second-place hay posted the best numbers, although RFV differences were small. The judge discounted it for stems and maturity, but chemicals that break down the hay are more precise than the judge’s eye.

The bottom line is all three samples would be worth buying at the right price, but only to feed to certain animals in specific stages of their life cycle.

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Source: Chris Parker, Purdue Extension; Litchfield Labs

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Three for the show: Left to right (above) are bales A, B and C. Bale C earned a red ribbon, but all three bales were within 3 points on relative feeding value.

This article published in the September, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.