Analysis is fast, affordable

Knowing the nutrient content of hay allows producers to feed a balanced ration to their animals. A new forage analysis method at the University of Tennessee Soil, Plant and Pest Center offers an improved service to Tennessee livestock producers. Photo by D. McIntosh, courtesy UTIA.

Knowing the nutrient content of hay is important for any livestock producer. Without it, feeding a balanced ration to their animals is very difficult. Hay and silage samples can be tested to determine the protein, fiber, and energy content. The UT Soil, Plant and Pest Center has provided this service for several decades. Recently, the Center teamed with the UT Institute of Agriculture Beef and Forage Center (UTBFC) to improve UT’s forage testing capabilities.

Through the partnership, near-infrared reflectance (NIR) technology is now being used to analyze samples. The process measures light reflectance to estimate protein, energy, as well as many other nutrients. It is providing results more quickly to the producers. Sample results are often available within a week. It is also allowing more precise analysis.

“Forage analysis is one more way we strive to assist Tennessee producers at the UT Soil, Plant and Pest Center,” says center manager Debbie Joines. “This team effort with UTBFC has enabled us to serve in a greater capacity to provide more information such as starch and sugars for horse owners. Large and small ruminant reports will also include more data to assist in determining forage quality.”

The UT forage lab is in the process of becoming a certified member of the National Forage Testing Association. The certification will allow its procedures to be nationally ranked for accuracy and provide more accurate forage test results for producers. The UTBFC is a member of the NIRS Consortium, which provides a wealth of knowledge on equation development and a vast database of forage samples necessary to predict forage quality with NIR technology. Over the past four years, the UTBFC has contributed more than 300 Tennessee forage samples from across the state to expand the equations we use.

Using NIR technology allows samples to be analyzed for specific livestock species. The lab has begun offering forage-testing packages for beef, horse, small ruminant, and dairy. Being able to choose the livestock species allows sample reports to be customized for each producer.

“We’re delighted to be able to offer NIR forage analysis to Tennessee livestock owners,” says Gary Bates, professor and director of the UT Beef and Forage Center. “Feed costs often make up more than 50 percent of the cost of keeping livestock, so knowing their hay nutrient content is one step in decreasing their expenses and becoming more profitable, not to mention better nutrition for their animals and herds.”

For more information including pricing structure for each species, visit the UTSoil, Plant and Pest Center forage page online or contact your local county UT Extension office.

The laboratories of the UT Soil, Plant and Pest Center have served homeowners, farmers, nursery growers, and researchers since 1949, providing information to assist in all areas of production.

The UT Beef and Forage Center facilitates research and communication of science-based information to advance the Tennessee beef and forage industry. The Center functions as an information hub for the industry and Tennessee producers and a focal point and catalyst for research, extension, and teaching efforts related to issues facing beef and forage systems in Tennessee.

The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and public service through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.



Debbie Joines, UT Soil, Plant and Pest Center,


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