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Sampling pasture nutrients

Your pasture may look healthy, but visual appraisals don't indicate nutrient content. Have forage samples analyzed to be sure your animals get the best nutrition.

Radio interview source: Dr. Ed Rayburn, Extension Forage Agronomist, West Virginia University

 
It's a good idea to have your pasture forages analyzed every two years by the local coop, which usually applies lime to add calcium and magnesium, and raises the soil pH level.
 
Ed Rayburn is an extension forage agronomist at West Virginia University. He says sampling forages for nutrient content gives you an idea of what is available for the livestock consuming it. With this information, you can make management decisions such as whether or not to supplement, and how much. 
 
The first step in collecting an accurate forage sample is to watch the animals. 
 
"How deep of a bite does that animal take into the pasture, and sample at that same height of harvest," he says. "As a general rule, the animal bites in about a-third of the height of the pasture.  The best thing is to be a good manager, get out there with your animals, get up close to the ones that will let you get close to them, and then mimic your sample to what the animal's doing."
 
Pluck off a sample at that height, and put it into a quart-sized plastic bag. Do this in random places around the pasture until the bag is tightly-packed. Don't include weeds. 
 
If you take the sample directly to the lab, freeze it first. Because the forage is fresh, it may start to decompose and the analysis won't represent what was taken from the field. If you mail a sample to the lab, Rayburn recommends drying it down first.  
 
"We will take the sample, lay it out on just a piece of window screen, and let it dry down to a hay-type dry matter," he says. "And that's primarily to have it so it will be stable getting it to the laboratory. Some people would argue with that, but on a practical basis, air drying it is the simplest method to preserve it."
 
The analysis report will determine nutrients such as major and minor minerals, protein, fiber, and net energy. 

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