Forage is the foundation of a balanced equine diet and should comprise the majority of your horse’s intake. But it’s hard to know the quality of hay just by looking at it.
Hay or pasture analysis can help you understand the nutritional composition of your horse’s forage so you can address deficiencies or imbalances. With this data, our equine nutritionists will formulate the optimal feeding program for your horse customized to their individual needs.
In this video, Dr. Alex Rankovic, Ph.D. of Mad Barn explains how to collect a hay sample using a forage probe or the hand-grab method with a pair of scissors.
Whether you’re sampling from fresh pasture or round, square, or compressed hay bales, you’ll want to collect a ½ – 1 lb (200 – 500 g) sample that is representative of your forage lot.
The best time to sample hay is as close to feeding as possible. You’ll need a large, clean mixing bucket and a labelled, sealable plastic sample bag.
Collect samples from 20 bales within one lot of hay to minimize sampling variation.
If you have a 100-bale lot of hay, sample a random core from every 5th bale. For the most accurate results, choose 5 each of the best- and worst-looking bales and 10 average bales.
Using a Hay Probe:
This is the ideal method because a hay probe is accurate, fast and allows you to obtain a core sample of each bale you’re testing. You can borrow hay probes from your local feed store, agriculture cooperative or government agency.
You will need an electric drill to drive the probe through the bale’s cores.
Start at the end of a square bale and push the probe in horizontally to a depth of 18 inches so that multiple flakes are tested. For round bales, sample into the curved part of the bale to obtain a good cross-section.
The collected material should be thoroughly mixed prior to bagging your sample.
If you are using the hand grab method, open at least 20 bales from your lot and grab subsamples from different parts within each bale of hay.
Grab a little hay from the exterior of the bale too, but the majority of samples should come from the interior of the bale.
Try not to crush any dried leaves or seed heads when grabbing hay samples this way.
Cut the collected hay into 2–3-inch segments before mixing thoroughly prior to bagging.
It is important to obtain samples that are representative of the entire pasture lot. Walk around the pasture with a pair of scissors and cut random samples every 10 feet.
Cut the grass at the height that your horse is currently grazing and ensure there is no dirt contaminating the sample. Your samples should be trimmed to about 2-3 inches long.
Samples need to be thoroughly mixed together and then frozen or dried prior to shipping. This preserves the sugars in the grass so the laboratory can provide you with accurate energy values.
Spread your pasture sample out on paper and let it air-dry for at least 2 days prior to shipping. Alternatively, you can spread the sample out in a pan and oven-dry it overnight at 100F.
Learn more about how to take a hay sample and interpret the results at https://madbarn.com/how-to-take-a-hay-sample/