Forage Testing Guide for Hay
Providing adequate nutrition during winter months is key for maintaining a healthy,productive and profitable livestock operation. On most farms, hay is a key component of the winter feeding program. Animal nutritionists say good quality hay alone can provide the wintertime nutritional needs for many classes of livestock.

The keyword is "good quality." What is good quality hay? While several physical observations such as age of cutting, odor, color and texture can give an indication of hay quality, only a laboratory nutrient analysis can provide an accurate estimate of the true feeding value of hay.

Sampling Procedures
As with any test, a hay analysis is only as good as the sample it represents. To obtain a representative sample, follow these guidelines:

  • Take samples at or during hay harvest or delivery. Once hay is stacked inside a barn, it is difficult to obtain a representative sample. For small rectangular bales, set aside three or four bales from each load. These bales can then be grouped and sampled by lot at a later time. Large bales can be sampled in the field prior to removal.
  • Use a hay core sampler, probe or punch designed specifically for sampling hay. Many county extension offices and farm supply dealers have samplers available forloan. Grab samplings of hay in which fistfuls of hay are pulled from bales is not recommended. Neither is submitting flake samples from rectangular bales.Both can give erroneous results.
  • For rectangular bales (large or small) collect samples by inserting the sampler probe 12 - 16" into the center of the bale at either end. This allows the probe to pass through several bale flakes as it "cores" out the sample. For large round bales, the probe should be inserted 16" - 20"through the side of the bale where several layers of hay are penetrated.
  • Collect samples from 15-20 small rectangular bales or from 8-12 large round or rectangular bales.
  • Hay should be free of excess moisture from dew or rainfall before sampling.
  • Core samples from each lot of hay should be mixed together and placed in a polyethylene freezer bag where it can be sealed tightly.

Note:The National Forage Testing Assn. encourages anyone sampling hay to become a"certified sampler". Certification is free. Details are available on their website at 

There area number of private, state and university labs that perform forage nutrient analysis. The local or area university extension office or farm supply dealer can offer assistance in getting hay samples submitted for analysis.

Note: The National Forage Testing Assn. recommends the use of certified labs for forage analysis. A list is available on their website at

Hay analysis results may be reported in various ways depending on the laboratory used and/or state or region. Results may show values for dry matter, crude protein, bound protein, energy, total digestible nutrients (TDN), fiber, minerals and nitrates. Some states use a relative feed quality (RFQ) value that takes the individual values (crude protein, fiber, etc.) and calculates a single numeric value that producers can easily use to categorize and/or price hay lots by quality. For example, hay with one RFQ value may meet the needs of dry beef cows, whereas a hay with a higher RFQ would be needed for cows nursing calves.

The local extension office, farm supply dealer or veterinary office can assist with interpreting hay sample results.