As the growing season comes to an end and winter approaches, producers are storing hay for the winter and selling it for others to feed and store. I often talk to people and they ask about the quality of hay, what is the best hay and how do they know they are getting good hay.

When considering your hay options, you must look at the requirements of the animals first. For example, a lactating pregnant cow has a higher nutritional plane than a mature non-pregnant cow. For optimal animal production, forage quality should line up with the nutritional needs of the animals. If you have low-quality forage, you will see the reduced performance and a decrease in the weight of animals. If you have quality hay, you will need little to no supplementation and will see the weight of the animal maintained.

All hay is not created equal, and there are many factors that can affect forage nutrient content. Forage can vary within a particular type, time of harvest (maturity), species and variety, temperature, leaf-to-stem ratio and weather.

How do you know4the nutrient content or quality of hay then? Well that’s where a good ol’ forage test comes in. I have shouted to the skies for many years about soil testing, know what and how much to fertilize because that affects forage quality.

Well, I am again going to shout to the skies about forage testing. It is easy to do, cheap and provides you with valuable knowledge about your hay.

What does a hay sample analysis tell you? People commonly think about crude protein when they think about hay. While this is important, a good estimate of TDN (total digestible nutrients) is as or more important than protein content, as it is the main source of energy for cattle.

The forage analysis will provide you with your crude protein content, which helps to tell you if you will need to supplement protein or not. TDN is a measure of the total digestible nutrients in hay, or the percent of nutrients digested and used, or its energy value. For example, mature hay has a lower TDN than immature leafy grass. TDN often ranges from 40 to 55 percent.

Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) is the measure of a plant’s cell wall content, it will be shown as a percentage. NDF is generally a predictor of intake of forage and is the bulk or fill of feed. A high NDF indicates high overall fiber, and in general, a low NDF is desired. Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) is a measure of the fiber concentration of the hay, also shown as a percentage. It is the least digestible plant components, like cellulose and lignin. As ADF increases, digestibility and nutrient availability decreases.

If you are interested in having your hay tested and learning about what to look for in quality hay, how to read your analysis results and potential boasting rights, join us for our hay show. Brazoria and Galveston counties are hosting a hay show at 6 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the conference room at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2700 Lehi Lane, Alvin.

If you register for the show you will receive three free forage analysis for either grown or purchased hay, Bermuda and other warm-season grass categories. Additional samples are $5 each. If the hay is grown by the registrant, you will be entered in the hay show for a chance to win cash prizes and bragging rights.

Visit brazoria.agrilife.org/events or call 979-864-1558 for information, rules, and drop-off locations. The deadline for entry is Thursday.

If you must miss the hay show, the Texas A&M soil lab offers soil testing year-round. Visit soiltesting.tamu.edu for forms and more information.

Jessica Chase is the agriculture and natural resources Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent for Brazoria County. Her column appears every other Tuesday on the Community page. Contact her at 979-864-1558 or jessica.chase@ag.tamu.edu.

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