Feeding a quality forage should be the basis of every feeding program. Given the forage portion will account for the large majority of nutrient intake for your horse, isn’t it important to understand what is in that forage?

By knowing what is needed to fill in the gaps, you can take the guesswork out of feeding grains, commercial feeds, and supplements to your horse.

Obtaining and knowing how to read a hay analysis is a skill that can help you create the optimal starting point for your horse’s nutrition program.

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Taking a Hay Sample

Forage Probe for Taking a Hay Sample | Mad Barn Canada

A forage probe is the best way to obtain a hay sample to send for analysis.

The first step in obtaining a hay sample result is getting a representative sample of your hay.  This is best done using a forage probe, which is just one example of the many probes available on the market.

For many horse owners, purchasing a forage probe may not be practical. Local feed stores, agriculture cooperatives or government agencies will have forage probes on hand that can be borrowed.

Ideally, 10-20 individual bales should be sampled to get a representative sample. Smaller sample sizes as few as 2 to 5 can be done as well.

It is important to note though that the fewer the samples, the more likely you are to sample an outlier that may not be representative of the batch. This is particularly important in alfalfa/grass blends as the amount of each can vary widely between bales.

Failing any of the above options for obtaining a forage probe, it is possible to take grab samples of forages with a sturdy pair of scissors. Open the bales gently (you do not want to lose the leaf matter in your sample, as horses will preferentially eat this and they are the most likely to fall out of your sample).

Firmly grab a sample out of the slab and use the scissors to cut each side of the hay, so you are left with a handful of hay sample. Drop the hay sample in your ziplock bag and repeat 9 more times on different bales.

Most labs only require about 100 grams of sample for a full analysis, but you should obtain more than that – about 200 grams. Do not exceed 500 grams (about 1 lb) of sample.

Selecting Your Lab for Analysis

With your hay sample secured, now it is time to send the sample off to a certified laboratory. Most forage laboratories will offer an ‘equine’ sample analysis. This is no different in terms of the analysis they do, it is just a tailored report for horse owners.

If you’re going to the trouble of taking the sample, now is not the time to cheap out. Ensure you get a complete trace mineral analysis by wet chemistry done on your hay sample. For most labs, this will be an extra checkbox and an extra charge.

A hay sample with full analysis with trace minerals by wet chemistry should not cost more than $60.

Unless you want to ‘geek’ out and get a full ruminant analysis done – which will include NDF digestibilities – that will cost more. An example submission form from SGS laboratories in Guelph, ON is shown below. The submission form must be included with your sample.

Sample Hay Analysis Submission Form | Mad Barn Canada

Below are links to some certified forage laboratories and their respective feed submission forms:


Equine Complete

SGS Crop Science – Canada Guelph, ON