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Friday, May 12, 2017

Hay Sampling and Testing

Chris Shelley, CSU Extension Area Livestock Agent

Cattle belong to a group of animals with very complex digestive system called ruminants. They utilize many forages (hay) very efficiently, making it easy to overlook the importance of forage evaluation. Cattle performance is highly influenced by the quality of the diet. Obtaining forage quality results through representative sampling and testing is critical for hay marketing, animal nutrition and livestock production goals.

Whether you seek analysis on crude protein, TDN or nitrates, incorrect sampling of baled forages will lead to lab results that do not represent the actual quality. The National Forage Testing Association (NFTA - has established 10 best practices summarized below. Following these steps will help to collect a representative sample of your hay.

1. Identify a single ‘lot’ of hay.
· Less than 200 tons
· Must be from the same field, cutting and forage type

2. When to Sample?
· Hay quality can change, especially during the first 22 days after harvest and storage
· Sample as close to feeding as possible

3. Choose a sharp, well-designed coring device.
· Do not collect grab samples
· Select a probe diameter of 3/8 - 3/4 inches and a depth of 12 - 24 inches
· Maintain sharp tips that are not angled (90 degrees to shaft)

4. Sample at random.
· Make every attempt to randomize which bales are chosen for sampling
· Choosing or avoiding bales based on appearance or quality introduces bias and may not accurately represent the lot

5. Take enough cores.
· Minimum of 20 cores per hay lot
· Sampling more bales generally represents the lot more accurately

6. Use proper technique.
· Sample butt ends of square bales or curved surface of round bales
· Avoid edges and insert probe at a 90 degree angle
· For round bales, sample towards the center and do not sample flat sides

7. Sample amount: “not too big, not too small”.
· The 20+ cores should result in a 1/2 pound sample

8. Handle samples correctly.
· Seal samples in plastic bag - double bagging is beneficial
· Protect from heat and sun light
· Send sample to the lab as soon as possible

9. Never split samples without grinding.
· It is okay to double check the performance of a lab with another lab
· Do not split samples unless they have been ground
· It is okay to ask for unused sample back from labs to send to another lab (easy to include in the notes or special instruction section on your sample submittal form)

10. Choose an NFTA-Certified Lab.
· The NFTA is a volunteer group set up by growers
· NFTA certified labs have demonstrated commitment to good results

For additional information, visit the NFTA website at or contact your local extension office.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Livestock Care after a Wildfire

As of March 7, 2017 the National Drought Mitigation Center indicated on the U.S. Drought Monitor that most of northeastern Colorado is experiencing moderate drought. This, accompanied with seasonally windy conditions, sets the stage for dangerous wildfire potential. Some areas in northeastern Colorado have already been impacted by wildfire.

Some of the wind-fueled fires of northeastern Colorado come quickly and with little warning, sometimes catching livestock in its path. Livestock in the path of wildfires can suffer death, burns and smoke inhalation. It is important to remember that the effects of wildfires are not sometimes seen until several weeks after the fire. Producers with livestock injured by wildfire or subjected to smoke and dust inhalation should consult with their local veterinarian.

The immediate need for livestock after a fire is to have fresh water and feed. It is best to move them from the burned areas if possible. Hay can be contaminated with dust, ash and soot following a fire, which may decrease the palatability of the feed and even lead to some health complications. Likewise, soot, ash and erosion can contaminate water sources. Make sure feed and water are not contaminated and are free of debris.

The wildfires of northeastern Colorado have burned many grazing acres and haystacks. As producers look to the future, they may be faced with some challenging situations. Montana State University Extension published the following self-assessment questions for producers who have lost forage resources to wildfire.

· Are my animals losing weight or not performing adequately?
· What is the body condition score of my cows?
· Will I have to start to provide supplements?
· If the lack of forage continues, should I cull the least productive or “at risk” animals?
· What feeds are available to the ranch?
· Assuming that I will have to purchase supplemental feeds, are they available, and at what cost?
· Is one option to sell hay and buy back grain for limit feeding?
· Do I have the feed resources to allow for full feeding vs. supplementary feeding only vs. limit feeding of grain?

Producers should continue to monitor body condition as this can indicate adequate nutrition and underlying health conditions. Many generous donations of feed resources may come following a fire. The old adage of not looking a gift horse in the mouth is important, but does not override good nutrition principles. A quick lab analysis can check for high nitrates, TDN and protein levels important for any feeding plan.

To view the CSU Extension publications on caring for livestock before, during and after a disaster, visit the following website

For further information on livestock health care, nutrition and management, contact your county extension office.