Good eye for hay gets you in the ballgame
Editor’s note: I judged 50 4-H hay exhibits at the 2010 Morgan County fair. To see how visual judging paired up with actual value, I asked Chris Parker to core-sample various flakes. Parker sent samples to Litchfield Analytical Services, Litchfield, Mich., for near-infrared (NIR) analysis.
‘Your visual inspection matched up pretty well with the results from the lab,” says Chris Parker, Morgan County Extension ag educator. Parker raises hay and has also judged 4-H hay contests.
“Of course, most all of these represent good hay. Most people are going to bring the best hay they have.”
That said, however, rainfall early in the summer messed up harvesting patterns. Some first cuttings were delayed, and some second cuttings were delayed, too. That tends to result in more mature hay with more stems, Parker notes. The more mature the hay, the lower the feed values you can expect.
• Someone trained to look at hay can do a reasonable job of estimating value.
• Near-infrared lab testing puts numbers to feed value.
• Mixed grass and legume hay cut correctly can have high RFV numbers.
“When I’m looking at hay visually, I’m looking for color, odor and stage of maturity,” he says. “If it’s mixed grass and legume hay and the grass was cut fairly young, you can get very good hay. This set of samples bears that out. If it’s a grass and it’s already headed, it will have less feed value. If it’s headed with seeds in the head, it will be even less.
“I also look for weeds. And I look for the amount of leafiness. When you’re comparing two good hays to each other visually, sometimes you just have to guess.”
The original plan for this exercise was to pull samples. Parker opted to core flakes. Every Extension office should have a hay probe that fits either a brace and bit or an electric drill, he notes. “You just increase your odds of getting a more accurate sample by coring,” he says.
Typically, he will pull 12 to 15 cores of the same lot of hay, either small square bales or large round bales. In this case, he tried to get five cores from each flake.
Review the numbers
“The first thing that stood out was how dry these samples were,” Parker says. “Most only had 10% to 12% moisture. If you’re baling at 15% to 20% to preserve leaves and get hay in the barn, typically the moisture content when you pull samples will be higher. Obviously, these flakes dried out more quickly out of the bale.”
Crude protein levels were also impressive, Parker says. They generally followed the pattern of the more legume in the mix, the higher the protein value, but not precisely. “Remember that the 4-H member selected what category to enter. It’s possible that some in the legume/mixed hay class had as much or more legume present as in the hay entered as straight legume. It’s very hard to get legume hay without some grass present.”
Next, Parker looks at acid detergent fiber, or ADF. It’s a good measure of how much stem, or fiber, is present. In general, the lower the ADF, the higher the quality.
The specialist also looks at total digestible nutrients, or TDN, a measure of energy content. The bottom-line number is relative feed value, or RFV. Usually, the higher the number, the greater the overall feed value. RFVs of 130 or above represent very good-quality hay, Parker notes.
This article published in the November, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.