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"My vet has advised that I get my hay analysed. What should I be analysing it for?"
There are many things for which you can get your hay analysed. It really depends on why your vet has advised you to have this done. The most usual reason is to have it analysed for its nutritional content. This means that you can have a much better idea of the contribution your hay is making to your horses daily nutritional requirements. It also means you can use it to work out how much hay you should be feeding, based on your horses daily nutrient requirements.
This type of analysis will give you an idea of the moisture level, energy, protein, fat and carbohydrates in your hay. The carbohydrate portion can be further broken down into fibre, as well as starch and sugars. The protein fraction can also be broken down into the essential amino acids, such as lysine, to give an idea of the quality of the protein in the forage. Vitamins and minerals can also be included in more detailed analyses. This information, together with your horse’s body weight and workload, can be used to balance his daily ration. Methods used to determine nutrient content are usually wet chemistry (labour intensive but an absolute measure of the nutrient you are investigating) and NIRS (Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy – rapid with many samples analysed at a time but can be less accurate than wet chemistry).
Other types of analyses include screening for mycotoxin contamination. This is often more expensive than nutrient analysis and there are many different techniques used to carry it out. The more advanced the technique, the more accurate and detailed the results. It is always worth finding out what methodology laboratories use in order to be able to interpret the results correctly. A good lab will always help with this interpretation. Remember that any forage will vary from bale to bale, batch to batch, so your analysis for one sample may not represent an analysis for another. It is often useful to look at average results for the season – many labs can help with this information.
Expert Answer by: Helen Warren