While people often define hay quality by its palatability, they also need to consider digestibility and nutritional value. To evaluate hay on these parameters, you need to sample and test your hay.
It's easy to take a hay sample. Wesample each hay lot separately at the extension office. A hay lot is hay from the same field and same cutting that is harvested under the same environmental conditions and has the same forage composition.
You can take hay samples with a hay probe. Next, send the sample to a lab, such as our University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Forage Extension Laboratory, or a private lab, such as Waters Lab in Georgia.
Sample results at least should include crude protein and total digestible nutrients, and should be reported on a dry-matter basis. Dry matter refers to the portion of the forage after water is excluded.
Reporting on a dry matter basis allows us to compare different forages. Crude protein, or CP, is the nitrogen and amino acids in feeds. Total digestible nutrients, or TDN, represents the energy value of feeds, which is the sum of digestible fibers, starch, sugars, protein and fats in the forages.
Knowing CP and TDN, along with evaluating the palatability, will allow you to determine how much to feed to maintain body conditioning for your livestock.
Bahiagrass hay seems to be less palatable sometimes, but this is more of a management issue. Bahiagrass is often cut after peak palatability. Generally, good bahiagrass hay will provide appropriate nutrients for livestock if palatability is high.
Bermudagrass, which seems to be more palatable to picky eaters, contains adequate nutrients for most livestock.
Call me at 689-5850 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about hay sampling or to have your hay sampled.
Jennifer Bearden is an agent at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office in Crestview.