Providing high-quality forages for your herd is a science—and not a cheap one. Depending on the species and the end goal, your animals have specific requirements that need to be addressed. To see the most success from your operation, you must be providing them with the right feed.
But there’s no easy way to tell if your forages are high quality, whether hay, pasture or silage. While you may be able to spot a problem, there’s no sensory test for nutrition—you can’t see it, smell it or feel it. Knowing the quality of your forages means sending them off to a lab for analysis. For producers using the hay on their farm, this will help them make the right ration decisions and prioritize the use and storage of the available hay. For farmers selling or buying hay, understanding quality can help them determine the market value.
PRO-TIP: Want a rundown on the best practices for sampling your bales? The National Forage Testing Association has resources to walk you through the process.
The Metrics of Quality
Reading your forage quality analysis can feel like alphabet soup. Here’s a quick look at the abbreviations that matter most.
Crude Protein (CP) - Crude protein measures the nitrogen in a ration, as nitrogen is what makes up the amino acids that form protein.
Crude Fiber (CF) - A traditional measure of fiber in feed, crude fiber represents the least digestible portion of a feedstuff, which is fermented in the rumen by microbes. It is an indicator of the energy level of a ration. CF breaks down into NDF and ADF.
Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) - A predictor of intake, NDF includes the structural components of the plant, such as the cell wall. NDF is low-calorie bulk.
Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) - ADF includes the least digestible parts of the plants, such as cellulose and lignin. It is used as the measure of digestibility.
Dry Matter (DM) - DM is the total moisture-free portion of the sample. This is important because moisture alone doesn’t influence intake and dilutes the overall concentration of nutrients in a sample.
Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) - TDN combines the digestible fiber, protein, lipid and carbohydrate components, focusing on digestible energy.
Relative Feed Value (RFV) - RFV combines NDF and ADF to predict overall feeding value. It is often used with legume hay, such as alfalfa.
Relative Forage Quality (RFQ) - RFQ also combines NDF and ADF to predict value, but a simulated digestion process determines it. It is often considered to be the more accurate predictor of forage value.
Managing for Higher Quality Forages
Management can impact your forage crops. Maturity, storage, fermentation, and fertilization can affect your overall quality. Generate® by Agnition is a proven solution for farmers hoping to get more value from their forage crops. By stimulating microbes in the soil, Generate drives more efficient nutrient utilization. In foliar applications, alfalfa treated with Generate showed:
Increase of 26 RFV
Increase of 75 RFQ
Improvement of 2.77% CP
Improvement of 2.32% TDN