Written by: Shannon Pratt-Phillips, PhD.
Learn how to collect hay properly in order to get the most out of a hay analysis.
GREAT question – because it is so important to know what nutrients are being provided for (or not!) in the biggest component of your horse’s diet. While hay quality – and to some extent, nutrient content – may be estimated by looking at the type of plant in the hay and its maturity level, to get a true picture of your horse’s nutrient intake from its hay, a hay analysis is very useful.
The best way to get a sample is to get a hay core sample. This allows for the collection of hay from the inside of the hay bale and gives a good representation of what the horse will actually consume. This process uses a drill and the core sampler probe, which is a hollow extension that fits to the drill. Then the core sampler is drilled into the baled hay and the sample collects inside the hollow part of the probe. This is pulled out of the bale and emptied into a bag, and repeated on 10 different bales of hay to get a good representation, and then sent to the lab for analysis.
A hay probe can run a little more than $150, but many feed stores or agriculture labs have some you could borrow, or your equine nutritionist or feed manufacturer representative may come out and do it for you. If getting a core sample is still not feasible, it may be possible to do a “grab” sample. Simply grab handfuls of hay from several (5+, ideally 10) different bales and areas of the bales. These can be put into a baggie and then submitted to a lab. The problem with grabs, however, is that you often lose the leaves, which contain a large portion of the nutrition, and, therefore, you may underestimate the nutrient quality of your hay.
Depending on what analysis you want to do, and the type of tests used by your lab (near-infrared technology or wet chemistry) the volume of hay sample required will vary. If you send about a one-gallon bag filled with long stem hay (from a grab) or about 100 grams from core samples, the lab should have sufficient amounts of sample to run tests. Several labs across Canada will do basic analyses, or you can send your sample to Equi-Analytical in New York, where they specialize in testing feeds for horses. Just do a Google search with key words such as “hay” (or forage) “analysis” “laboratory” and your province and you should be able to find one. When you get your results, an equine nutritionist can help you interpret the values and what it means for your horses’ diets.