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How to take hay samples

Get into the routine of sampling after every cutting. Here are tips for how to access a probe and how to take proper samples. Plus, enter the Hoosier Hay Contest for a discount on testing.

Allison Lund, Indiana Prairie Farmer Senior Editor

June 14, 2024

4 Min Read
A man taking a sample from a large round bale of hay
FIND A PROBE: Check with your county Extension office, local feed mill or local agronomy service to see if they have a hay probe you can borrow. Nick Minton

“I know my hay” is a common reason folks give for why they do not sample their hay. However, environmental factors can alter nutrient levels and create a scenario where what you think you have and what you do have for hay do not match.

A solid habit to form is sampling hay after each cutting, according to Nick Minton, beef systems specialist at Purdue. He echoes the sentiment that nobody can know the nutrient levels of their hay without testing.

“The most-skilled producer will look at a hayfield and say, ‘That’s going to be great hay,’” Minton says. “It can be a great-looking field of hay, but the only way we’re going to know if it’s low quality, moderate quality or high quality is if we sample it and compare it to the thousands of samples that are in databases at commercial labs.”

How to sample

Minton says every producer should have access to a hay probe in some form, adding that only large hay producers need to buy one. Check with your county Extension office, local feed mill or local agronomy service to see if they have one. If your county Extension does not have one, they should be able to acquire one from a neighboring county.

The type of bale you’re sampling determines what method to use. The key is to pull a representative sample that penetrates layers. For round bales, push the probe into the side of the bale. For squares, push the probe into the end of the bale.

You want to sample at least 10 bales from a field for a total of at least 20 cores. So, you can take two cores from each bale — one from each side or end — and combine them for a total sample. That sample should weigh about 1 pound, which is what most commercial labs need for testing.

After you’ve pulled your cores, put the sample into a Ziploc bag and push out as much air as possible. Minton says it is best to mail the sample that same day or put it in the freezer and mail it the next day. Additionally, he recommends mailing samples on a Monday or Tuesday.

When to sample

Minton says it is best to sample about a month before you plan to feed the hay. This will ensure that the nutritional value your livestock gets from the hay is as close as possible to what is reflected in the sample test results.

For baleage, sample two weeks before you feed it. Keep oxygen out after penetrating the bag by taping over the sample hole with repair tape for sileage bags or films.

While it may seem like overkill to sample after each cutting, Minton says this practice will give you the most accurate snapshot of your hay quality. The first cutting will typically be lower quality for most perennial forages, so it can be hard to predict what the quality will be after each cutting without sampling.

Routine sampling can also help producers pivot and change practices. For example, it may alter how you choose to store your hay to slow deterioration.

“Sampling after each cutting allows a producer to better outline and develop a strategy on which hay to feed first,” Minton adds.

Hoosier Hay Contest

This year will mark the third Hoosier Hay Contest, hosted by the Indiana Forage Council. If you have not recently sampled your hay, this is your chance to have your samples tested at a discounted rate.

All samples will be sent to SureTech Laboratories, where producers will receive a comprehensive analysis for $14 per hay sample and $20 per baleage sample. Producers can then see how their sample compares to the other samples submitted for the contest. All results will be anonymous.

There are classes in both the hay and baleage categories for pure grass, grass-legume and pure legume. First place in a class wins a $250 prize, second place wins $150, and third place wins $100.

While this can be a fun way to see how your hay stacks up against other samples, Minton hopes it will spark routine sampling.

“The goal is to encourage those producers who have not been testing to start implementing that on an annual basis,” Minton says.

Entries are being accepted through Sept. 30 and will be capped at 100 submissions. For more information and contest rules, visit indianaforage.org. Direct questions to Minton at [email protected] or 812-279-4330.

Read more about:

HayBaleage

About the Author(s)

Allison Lund

Indiana Prairie Farmer Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Allison Lund worked as a staff writer for Indiana Prairie Farmer before becoming editor in 2024. She graduated from Purdue University with a major in agricultural communications and a minor in crop science. She served as president of Purdue’s Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow chapter. In 2022, she received the American FFA Degree. 

Lund grew up on a cash grain farm in south-central Wisconsin, where the primary crops were corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. Her family also raised chewing tobacco and Hereford cattle. She spent most of her time helping with the tobacco crop in the summer and raising Boer goats for FFA projects. She lives near Winamac, Ind.

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