Forage Testing for More Efficient Use of Feedstuffs

Rachel Endecott, Montana State University Extension Beef Cattle SpecialistRachel Endecott, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Greetings from Bozeman! I can’t believe it’s nearly MSGA Convention time, but I’m looking forward to seeing many of you in Billings in December.

I received a great question the other day about considerations for feeding “environmentally impacted” feeds, like rained-on hay or hailed-out crops. My first recommendation – for any feedstuff, not just weather-beaten forages – is to obtain a nutrient analysis. I’m a big fan of the saying, “in order to manage, one must first measure,” and a forage nutrient analysis is a critical step in determining least-cost rations. This is even more important when you’re unsure how poor harvest conditions may have impacted the forage.

The first step in getting a nutrient analysis is to collect a representative sample. A common rule of thumb is to sample from 10% of the feedstuff; for example, if you had 100 bales of hay, sample 10 bales from various locations in the stack. For hay samples, I highly recommend a hay probe for the most accurate results; most Extension offices have hay probes to loan out. For silage, grain, or cubes, a grab sample is appropriate since the feed is much more uniform in nature.

The second step is to find a testing lab and send the sample in for analysis. Your local Extension office probably has an established relationship with a lab and can assist with sampling and selecting the right testing package. For hailed-out or otherwise drought-impacted annual crops, testing for nitrate content is definitely recommended in addition to a base testing package.

The final step is to interpret the nutrient analysis. You can learn more about that process from the January 2013 Cow Sense Chronicle, my monthly e-newsletter. The archives are located at If you’d like to be added to the e-newsletter distribution list, please send me an email at



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