For about $25, you can find out for sure if you horse’s hay is giving him the nutrition he needs, how much he needs to eat for his level of work, and if the mineral levels are balanced or not. It eliminates the guesswork and may even save you money on unnecessary supplements.
Hay/forage testing laboratories are located nationwide, often at your state university’s Agricultural Department. Start by contacting your local agricultural extension agent or county cooperative extension agent (phone numbers are listed in the government listings in the phone book). There are also numerous private labs.
Always use a lab that has been certified as accurate by the National Forage Testing Association (NFTA). Their web site, which contains a list of certified labs, is www.foragetesting.org or 402/333-7485. Be aware that most labs are geared to dairy farmers, who are well aware of the value of a hay analysis. Tell the lab you have horses and be sure they will send results in a horse-appropriate form. You want horse values, not numbers geared toward how well cows can utilize the hay.
Basic tests you should get include: protein, fiber, NSC (nonstructural carbohydrates, a measure of the sugar and starch in the hay), digestible energy (designated as “DE” in calories per pound or kilogram of hay specifically for horses), calcium percentage, phosphorus percentage, magnesium percentage, parts per million (ppm) copper, ppm zinc, ppm iron, ppm manganese. If desired, you can order levels of other individual minerals separately, such as selenium, for an additional charge.
To get accurate results, several bales from the same lot, which is defined as hay grown under the same conditions, harvested/cured at the same times, stored under identical conditions, should be sampled. Both the exterior and interior of the bales should be included. The easiest way to do this is with a hay corer, which is a hollow tube you grind into the bale from the outside to the interior, resulting in a core of hay inside. The more bales sampled the better but five to 10 will be fairly representative. If you can’t get a hay-coring tool, pull samples by hand from different depths of several bales. All samples should then be mixed together and a test sample pulled from that.
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