Sampling Forage Quality

Feed is one of the major operating cost associated with livestock and dairy operations. While overfeeding of animals is wasteful, underfeeding will decrease animal performance and effect profitability. Sampling hay and forage is a simple and inexpensive tool that can be very beneficial for both feeding the correct nutrient values and optimizing marketing strategies. This article outlines some steps and resources for  proper forage sampling, but keep in mind: results are only as good as the sample provided to the laboratory.


Samples should be taken by forage lot: A forage lot is hay or silage taken from the same location, field, or farm, and from the same cutting (within a 48-hour period). A forage lot should be similar for forage type, field (soil type), cutting date, maturity, variety, weed infestation, type of harvest equipment, weather during growth and harvest and storage conditions. Every field and cutting is different, so do not combine hays of different qualities or cuttings into one composite sample.

A greater number of small samples are more representative than fewer large samples. To sample bales and stacks of hay, take at least 20 cores that are 12 to 18 inches deep with a corer that has internal diameter of at least 3/8 inch

Timing: Collect samples as close to the time of feeding or sale as possible. Sampling immediately before feeding accounts for any chances that occurred during storage. If you are selling the product, sampling close to the time of sale will guarantee accurate representation of the product being sold, which buyers will be interested in. If it is being put up as haylage or silage, wait till the product has going through fermentation and shortly before inclusion into the diet.

Equipment: Hay should be sampled with a sharp hay corer.  Grab samples (e.g. taken a sample by hand, not using a corer) will either over estimate the stems or the fines of your hay, whereas, a corer cuts the hay giving an accurate picture of the stems and leaves from the outside of the bale to the centre. You will also need a clean bucket, sample bag (Ziplock), and a permanent marker.

Taking the Sample:

  • Hay probes should be placed on the side and coring towards the center of the rounded side in round bales or on the butt ends when coring square bales (See Figures 1,2 and Table 1).
  • Core several random bales. A minimum of 20 cores should be taken overall.
  • Combine the core samples in a pail, mix them together and place the cores into gallon size plastic bag and seal.
  • Properly label the sample with a permanent marker.
  • If sampling standing forage, it is recommended to select at least eight representative locations and clip the forage at grazing or harvest height from a 1 square foot area at each location.
Tables and Figures credit: Undersander et al. 2005, Sampling hay, silage, and total mixed rations for analysis

Keep good records. Record name, date the crop was harvested, date sampled, and an identifier code or number for the lot on the bag with a permanent marker. The information will be useful when test results are received to help identify lots for correct feeding or marketing.

Ship samples as soon as possible to prevent moisture loss and microbial deterioration of the sample. Once a proper sample has been collected, send it to your lab of choice for analysis. For a list of Labs, see below.


Results will depend greatly on the type of analysis chosen and what you are hoping to achieve with them. An online tool has been created by the Beef Cattle Research Council:  Feed Testing & Analysis for Beef Cattle assisting producers in understanding their test results.

Contact your regional Agrologist (BC Ministry of Agriculture), or a crop consultant in the area for further help in interpreting results. Working with an agronomist from the start can help ensure that proper procedures and the necessary applications are made.

Sources Cited

Undersander et al. 2005 Sampling hay, silage, and total mixed rations for analysis. BC Ministry  of Agriculture, Williams Lake. Taking Feed Samples. Kansas State University.

Forage Facts: Forage Sampling and Analysis.

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