For Better Livestock, Feed Them Better Hay: Understanding the Ins and Outs of Forage Testing
During winter months, providing livestock with adequate nutrition is key for maintaining their health. At Mills Family Farm, hay is one of the main food sources we rely on during our winter feeding program because animal nutritionists claim that alone, good hay can meet the complete wintertime nutritional requirements of many livestock classes.
What does “good quality” hay mean exactly? Although many physical traits, like odor, texture, and color, can give clues regarding the hay’s quality, only a nutrient analysis completed in a laboratory can provide a full picture into the hay’s true feeding value. Formally known as forage testing, what determines the quality of the forage fed to livestock is impacted by multiple factors, including:
- Hay composition—All fibrous plants, including hay, contain fibrous cell walls designed for protection. One of the main purposes of forage testing is to characterize the cell wall fiber to determine how digestible and nutrient-dense the hay is.
- Plant morphology—In any plant, stems offer more fiber support while leaves are lower in fiber content. Since leaves and stems have such varying levels of fiber content, the quality of a forage plant, like hay, is directly related to the proportion of leaves to stems.
- Physical composition—During forage testing, the quality of forage can be analyzed on the surface in regard to the touch, sight, and smell of the sample.
- Chemical analysis—As part of the forage testing process, a laboratory will analyze a sample for the Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), and total nitrogen.
We feed our cattle the “scientific way” for better tasting meat and healthier livestock! For more information about forage testing and its multiplicity of benefits, feel free to give us a call.