Should Your Forage Analysis Include Ash?

Allen Gahler, OSU Extension Educator, Ag and Natural Resources, Sandusky County

Without a doubt, the hay sampling probe will be one of the most valuable tools you utilize in 2019!

By now you are certainly aware that the shortage of forage type feeds for all classes of livestock is a significant issue for livestock producers in Ohio and all around the country. Mother nature crippled many hayfields over the winter and early spring, and then did not allow us to make good hay in a timely manner due to constant rains throughout spring and early summer. This reality, combined with an abundance of prevented plant acres from traditional crops that were not put in the ground led to many cover crops being grown all over the state with intent to be harvested for forages.

While many of these cover crops are being grazed now and will continue to be into winter and even spring, many of them were grown in places that we simply cannot get livestock too, and in some cases, we simply needed to process that feed anyway in order to utilize it in complete rations. This scenario has certainly helped alleviate the hay shortage issue, but in some cases has created some potential issues that most farmers and livestock producers may not even be aware of.

If you regularly read OSU Extension publications such as the BEEF and CORN newsletter, you know that we always advocate testing your forages so you can be sure you are providing adequate nutrition to your livestock, and you have likely heard some of the horror stories from last winter where cattle were dying from malnutrition in pastures and dry lots despite hay being readily available. The reason for this was that hay being fed was so low in nutritional value that it was not enough to even maintain a cow, let alone support gestation or growth. Cue 2019!!!! We are likely to be faced with the same situation this year with many hayfields being made for the first time in July when forages have lost most of their feed value. And while the oats, triticale, sorghum-sudan, pearl millet, and rye cover crops that many producers are counting on for feed may be much higher in protein and even energy that our 1st cutting hay, there other concerns we need to be aware of, and we still MUST conduct forage tests on EVERY single different field, cutting, or source of forage in order to properly feed our flock or herd.

One of the biggest concerns we have found with the cover crop feeds as they are made into hay or silage is the ash content. I know many beef producers have probably never tested for ash, know what it means in their feed, or quite honestly, have ever cared! But as you will see in the following article by Bill Weiss, it is definitely a concern, even for beef cows. Normal ash content in hay is around 8-12%, but we have seen test values in oat hay, pearl millet hay, and other cover crop hay this fall as high as 22%, with most readings coming back in the 16-20% range. The biggest reason for this, as Bill explains in his article, is the contamination of the hay with soil particles, which is ash content in the feed. Many of our cover crops were planted into worked ground, and regardless of soil conditions at the time of harvest/hay production, loose soil found its way into the feed.

Depending on the way the forages are utilized, this may not lead to complete ingestion of all the ash content, especially with beef cows being fed free choice hay, as they will naturally select around contaminated feeds and soil particles, but for those using tub grinders, or any other type of processing for baled forages, the consumption of ash will likely be much higher, causing either digestive problems, or displacing protein/energy needs in the ration. Please read the following article carefully to fully understand your risks, and do not hesitate to reach out to myself, or any other member of the OSU Extension Beef or forages team for assistance in getting your forages tested, and interpreting those results!