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How to Sample your Hay for Analysis

Example of a hand cranked hay probe used for taking samples.

Example of a hand cranked hay probe used for taking samples.

Regardless of the horse, forage should be the foundation of their ration.  Even those with the best pastures will find that at some point in the year they will likely need to substitute another form of forage and the most common form of pasture replacement is hay. With forage as the foundation, all other components of the diet should build on the forage adding what may be lacking and improving the overall balance of certain nutrients.

While forages can be assessed visually, the only way to accurately know the nutrient content of your forage is to have it tested by a lab. This is easier and cheaper to do than many people realize and is worth considering if you buy large quantities of forage at a time. In fact if the hay is analyzed before purchase and you know how to decipher the analysis you can determine whether that hay is an appropriate investment.

Here I’m going to share with you how to take a good sample for analysis and in future blogs, I will cover what some of the analysis results mean so that you can decide whether a certain batch of hay is right for your horse’s needs. 

Taking a sample

The first step when analyzing any forage is to take a representative sample. As the most common pasture substitute is hay, we will focus here on achieving a good hay sample however it is possible to have all forms of forage analyzed. Getting a representative sample means taking hay from at least 15-20 bales which is why it may not be worth doing if you only buy small quantities of hay at a time. Certainly getting any amount analyzed will give you some general information that can be useful but the results from small samples will be less accurate.  Every batch of hay is different even when it comes from the same fields so ideally every batch should be tested to account for variation.

While grabbing a handful from the center of multiple bales is okay, to take a truly representative sample a hay probe is needed. These can be purchased online and one of the easiest to use is the Penn State Corer, which can be attached to an electric drill. Equi-analytical, the lab I recommend for analysis, sells these probes for $130 and this includes one free Equi-tech analysis (value $28). A probe can also be made from a sharpened golf club (chop off the club end) however if making your own probe make sure that the metal does not contain copper or iron as these will contaminate your sample. Insert the probe 12-18 inches into the bale from the middle of the short end so that you are taking a cross section of multiple flakes. Empty the probe contents from multiple bales into a Ziplock bag, mix in the bag and mail to the lab using their sample information sheet.

Creative Commons License
How to Sample your Hay for Analysis by Dr. Clair Thunes PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at…nalysis-part-i/

Published: Oct 14, 2015
Last Modified: 
May 9, 2024 @ 9:31 pm

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