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Ep. 045: Why Skipping a Hay Analysis Could Cost More Money in the Long Run with Sarah Fessenden

Co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr have an enlightening conversation with special guest Sarah Fessenden, Business Development Manager for the forage and soils laboratories of Dairy One and Equi-Analytical about: • Why it’s critical to get a representative hay sample when testing • The difference between ‘as sampled’ and ‘dry matter’ • What to do with the results you receive from a hay test

Episode Notes

On this episode, co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr have an enlightening conversation with special guest Sarah Fessenden, Business Development Manager for the forage and soils laboratories of Dairy One and Equi-Analytical about:


• Why it’s critical to get a representative hay sample when testing

• The difference between ‘as sampled’ and ‘dry matter’

• What to do with the results you receive from a hay test


Have any topics you want to hear more about? Let us know at


Connect with Dairy One/Equi-Analytical or Sarah:




  • *Views and opinions expressed by guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Standlee Premium Products, LLC.*

Katy Starr (00:01):

Hi, I'm Katy.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:02):

And I'm Dr. Cubitt. We're going Beyond the Barn. Come join us on this journey as we bust equine and livestock nutrition myths and interview some of the most intriguing experts in the country.


Katy Starr (00:15):

We'll go behind the scenes of how premium Western quality forage is grown and brought to your favorite farm and ranch retail store. We're so glad you're here. Welcome back to another episode of Beyond the Barn. Dr. Cubitt, thanks for joining me in the studio today.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:33):

I'm excited to be back and I'm excited for our guest.


Katy Starr (00:35):

Yes, so today our next guest grew up on a dairy farm in central New York and attended Cornell with a focus in dairy science. She worked as a dairy nutritionist following graduation and is now in Vermont as the Business Development Manager for the Forage and Soils Labs at Dairy One, including Equi-Analytical and Zooquarius, while also pursuing her dual degree MS and MBA from Purdue and Indiana University. Welcome Sarah to the Beyond the Barn Podcast.


Sarah Fessenden (01:09):

Thank you. Very glad to be here.


Katy Starr (01:11):

So today we get to talk with Sarah basically about how hey analysis can really help us, you know, reach our horses nutritional goals, how to do it properly, what it all means. But right before we jump into our topic today, I just wanna remind our listeners that any of the topics that we cover on the Beyond the Barn podcast are more generalized and they're not specific to any individual horse or any specific situation. Be sure to always work with your veterinarian and nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your horse's feed program. Or you can also reach out to us to talk directly with Dr. Cubitt or Dr. Duren on any specifics that you'd like to know. And then at the end we will also give you contact information for Sarah if you have specifics on the laboratory process that you know we don't touch on today. So Sarah, just to get us started, why don't you tell us just a little bit about your background in agriculture?


Sarah Fessenden (02:10):

Yeah, so it's mostly cattle, which I know is not what we wanna talk about today. But I will say I have, I've worked on a horse farm when I was in high school, so had a little bit of experience with some morgan horses and belgians. We’ll say I have a little bit of horse in me. I grew up in Central New York on a fairly sizable dairy farm. My family is the sixth, seventh generation on the farm? So it’s a well established farm there. When I initially went to college I wanted to try something different, but the cows called me back. I had a summer project where I was feeding some replacement heifers a kind of advanced nutrition diet that was really components for the milk replacer and I was just amazed to see what good nutrition could unlock, and I was back into dairy nutrition after that. So after graduation I wanted to go try out a different state, so that's what took me to Wisconsin doing dairy nutrition. And it was really interesting out there. The area I grew up in was very advanced dairy and very competitive. So where I went in Wisconsin, had a lot more traditional farms and I had to learn how to make diets differently than how I'd been taught in school.


Sarah Fessenden (03:26):

And it was a really great learning experience. After my time out there, I wanted to move into a role that was little less focused on selling pounds of feed and more on providing solutions. And so I found Dairy One and I've been there for over five years now. Helped launch Zooquarius when we started and then I've been growing a lot in our equine division in the last couple years. Turns out there's a lot to be shared about equine nutrition. I'm not a nutritionist so I cannot answer questions about that. But just in terms of what's valuable, getting your hay tested and kind of everything surrounding nutrition, it's such a big part of the horse’s diet and I’m a big proponent of preventative nutrition. Trying to do things ahead of any challenges and testing your feed is a really great way to start. It's the only way to start really. And nutrition is definitely a huge passion. Everything with what we’ve seen an animal can do, I have some animals of my own and taking care of them and seeing what more you can do. I know genetics play a big part in dairy cattle but nutrition can just elevate that so much more.


Katy Starr (04:41):

Honestly. I think that's why it's so great to have both you and Dr. Cubitt on today because she kind of hits that nutrition expert part for us and so being able to have a conversation with both of you, I think our listeners are gonna really enjoy today. And Sarah, so as I mentioned in your bio, you are the Business Development Manager for the Forage and Soils Labs at Dairy One. And you mentioned including Equi-Analytical and Zooquarius. So obviously we're talking about different species here, but can you tell us what actually differentiates the the labs andsections them out, like you said?


Sarah Fessenden (05:17):

Yes, it's all the same services, it all goes to the same building, same technicians, everything's the same. We just branded those services so that it's easier for those different markets. It started with Equi-Analytical back in 2005 I believe? I could be wrong. But in Equi-Analytical we're able to simplify our reports. Most of our reports are built around dairy calculations and you don't need to know the passage rate for a rumen when you're feeding a horse. And then we also saw an opportunity to simplify some of our packages or focus on what equine owners need. So we have I think four comprehensive packages for Equi-Analytical and then we have a couple kind of singular packages. We have like a carb pack that focuses on your sugars and carbohydrates and things that I know tend to be a critical point for any metabolic issues. And then on Zooquarius, we branded that back in 2018? Similar idea, just packaging things for our exotic markets. These are customers that we've had for a while, but seeing that we could put together packages for analyzing crickets and bamboo and fish, those aren't normally things we're feeding to dairy cattle. So we needed to put in different analytical values but it's still all the same lab equipment and lab technicians just packaged differently.


Katy Starr (06:46):

Yep, that makes sense. Great. And obviously today we're focusing a little bit more on the Equi-Analytical side even though you know a lot of our listeners, a lot of them do have horses, they do own other species. But let's walk through this process then. So what is the purpose of actually taking either a hay, pasture, or feed sample? Why do we do it? Why should we do it?


Sarah Fessenden (07:11):

Preventative nutrition can do a lot to help you on health issues. I know in equine, we've got all sorts of different kinda metabolic needs. You know you have everyone from pasture mate to a working horse to an athlete. And so to balance their diet and provide what they need for them, you need to know what raw ingredients you're working with. I know there's a lot of different mineral balances and grain balances out there, but the bulk of a horse's diet is typically hay or pasture. So you need to know what's in there. And also I like to advocate for taking a water sample too. We always worry about mineral levels and there's a lot of minerals in water so you should probably know what's in your groundwater as well. Sorry roundabout answer to get to, it's the basis. Everything you need to know to start balancing your diet comes from your hay and your grass and it changes. We know there's day to day changes from sugar levels in the morning versus the evening and seasonal changes, first cutting versus third cutting and then what type of grass or alfalfa is in involved, generally don't need a lot of alfalfa for horses but grasses we see all different types from the northeast to southwest and everywhere in between.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (08:26):

And I think Katy, that our horse owners are definitely more savvy. I think it's great that we've got Sarah on today. I mean when I was a graduate student, this dates me a little, we did everything through Dairy One and then obviously the industry and Dairy One realized, oh there is a huge market of equine clients that don't necessarily wanna have the word dairy in front of their forge testing lab. So just like yourself though Katy, Katy asked me what's the difference between Dairy One and Equi-Analytical. I said, well they're the same, it's the same company. They just saw that there was a a larger market for the equine group because we as nutritionists I feel have done a really good job educating our horse owners that you know, when I draw the food pyramid for a horse, the foundation, the base level is the forage and slight changes in the forage can have huge implications in the horse because just like you say, that's the majority of what they're eating. Now I was talking to a lady this morning who was worried about the fiber content in the four pounds of grain that she was feeding and I said, who really cares?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (09:32):

Your horse is eating 25 pounds of hay or even eating pasture. That's where all the fiber is coming from. And we have got more people that are testing their forage to know exactly what they're starting with. Some people can get a little nervous though when I advocate for testing their forage, especially if they've grown it themselves because they're like, oh well this is all I've got, this is what I've made, I can't change it. And I never want anyone to ever, when we advocate hay testing to think that we want to change what you're feeding necessarily. I just wanna know what you've got cause some years it might mean that you need to feed a little extra grain concentrate to compliment what you may be not getting out of your hay that year. In other years we might be able to take a lot of grain out and it also depends on the horse that you're feeding obviously. So it can really help save you money. So I think the most expensive hay test I've ever done with Equi-Analytical, which was all the bells and whistles, was probably about 75 bucks. Which sounds, ooh that sounds expensive, but in the grand scheme of things I can save you so much money by knowing exactly what you've got. So when people say to me, how do I save money? Know exactly what you're feeding and build from there. Starts with a hay test.


Sarah Fessenden (10:55):

Yea, I definitely agree. And that's a huge thing I advocate. People always ask me like is my hay bad? And I’m like there's so many factors that go into that I can't tell you based off the test if this is bad hay because it depends on who you're feeding it to.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (11:09):



Sarah Fessenden (11:12):

Exactly. And that's saving you money because I know you have a lot of emotional and financial ownership of what you've grown. So let's make the most of it know where we have deficiencies, but also it's probably not bad. We just have different areas we need to add to it. So whenever people send me their results and they’re liketell me if this is bad hay, I need to know so much more about your horse and also I cannot give you this nutritional advice, please talk to your nutritionist. They need to be looking at this.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (11:39):

And ultimately for me there's only one bad hay; dirt, dust, rats, weeds, mold, sticks. That's always bad. Good is exactly what you've described. It is what is appropriate for your horse and that depends on the horse you have. But there's really no bad hay unless it's really got yucky stuff in it.


Katy Starr (11:59):

Make them sick.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (12:00):

Sorry Katy, we're taking over the podcast. Continue.


Katy Starr (12:02):

Oh no. This is exactly what we should be doing right? This is great information. So I really appreciate you guys talking about this for our listeners.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (12:11):

And I think Sarah, you should never underestimate the value of your dairy background when talking to horse owners because you can bring in some more of the nuts and bolts like, I'm always trying to throw it back to, especially with the whole like price issue, throw it back to how do other livestock producers manage their animals because there's a finite budget and they need to make money cause it is their livelihood. And I know with horses for a lot of us it's therapy or it's a hobby, but using some of those things that they do in other livestock to make financial decisions in our equine diets is actually very beneficial.


Sarah Fessenden (12:50):

Oh yeah. It's entirely the basis of, I've had cows in the northeast in the Midwest and those diets are always primarily homegrown forage. So it's very similar to horses that we grew this, we need to know what's in it so we can then build out the rest of the diet. And yes there's very little bad feed, it's just what are we working with and how can we elevate it.


Katy Starr (13:13):

Obviously one important part of getting an accurate analysis and this is like a huge part of it, it starts at the very beginning when you're getting a sample, it needs to be a representative sample. And Sarah, I know we kind of talked about this a little bit before when we were prepping for this episode cause I used to work for, way before my Standlee time, I used to work for a laboratory that did a bunch of hay analysis, testing and things like that too. And one of the things that we struggled to get our customers to understand is just how important it is to get that representative sample because it could impact the results that you get back and may make them not accurate if you didn't do it correctly. And so we need to understand how critical that is when we're taking a hay sample. So Sarah, can you talk to us about what the best way is to take a representative sample and particularly what if we're dealing with a decent size stack of hay? Because it's one thing if you've got a few bales there that you're sampling, but what if you have a stack of hay that you have as your supply for the winter?


Sarah Fessenden (14:17):

This is something that I can probably talk about all day every day. Please take a good sample, it is the part that affects your results the most and we as the lab have no control over it. We can just beg for a good sample. I will always say the only way to take a good sample is with a hay probe. We've had a lot of people argue that, oh I can go take a couple grab samples and mix 'em up and use some scissors. At the end of the day you need to use a hay probe. I compare this to, I'm in the northeast, I'm in Vermont, we make maple syrup. So I compare it to if you go to a stand of trees and you're looking at all the trees and you say okay this tree right in front of me is a birch so there are no maple trees in this entire forest that I could tap for maple syrup.


Sarah Fessenden (15:03):

So you made that decision based off of one tree or one bale in this analogy. So if instead you took time to look at a few more trees and you saw that oh there are other types of trees here I could make some maple syrup, you made a much more informed decision about what you can do with this stand of trees in front of you. And it's the same thing with your feed. You need to sample multiple bales. We do have sampling instructions on our website for both hay and pasture. With larger loads and larger pastures we always say go and take to 12 to 20 representative sites with a hay probe that doesn't get to be too large of a sample. I always recommend clearing out your probe in between samples. If you get it packed in there, it can be more of a pain to get it off the drill. And we do have probes available on our website. If you don't want to purchase one, you can also reach out to your nutritionist or your county extension office or your feed mill.


Sarah Fessenden (15:56):

A lot of times they're willing to come out and help you grab a sample. If you don't have a ton of bales I also recommend if you're purchasing small loads at a time, see if your dealer will test the hay for you if they've got a larger batch and then they can get you the results and you can also verify your results with us. If they give you a report from Equi-Analytical, always feel free to call in and say hey I've got sample number two thousand forty-five. Does it have these crude protein values? We can't rerelease the results but we can confirm that those are the accurate results. We have had issues of people doctoring reports in the past so I like to caution against it. And then with pasture, 12 to 20 representative sites try to zigzag through the pasture. Don't pull up the whole plant, because hopefully your horse isn't up the whole plant, try to clip it where they're biting too, so you're not getting dirt and roots in there and if they're grazing at a certain time of day, try to sample at that time of day so you know what they're getting. Because like we said, the sugar value does change throughout the day. Whenever you do sample, if you're sending itthe next day or whenever you can refrigerate or freeze the sample immediately so it doesn’t degrade and change the values. And then sending it to us overnight should be fine or if you want to send it on dry ice or anything, would be keeping it at that value so it doesn’t degrade more in transit.


Katy Starr (17:15):

Is it only the pasture samples that you have to worry about refrigerating or dry hay? Are you okay to just ship that in as is or what are your recommendations?


Sarah Fessenden (17:24):

Dry hay is fine and don't worry if it gets handled too much, we’ve had some concerns with like, oh if I use a hay probe it will be too short of particles.


Katy Starr (17:32):

It's ground anyway .


Sarah Fessenden (17:35):

Yeah it get, it gets ground to one millimeter, you cannot damage it more than that.


Katy Starr (17:39):

. Awesome. And then what about if somebody was taking like a feed sample such as like some sort of grain concentrate or something like that?


Sarah Fessenden (17:48):

We don't get this question a whole lot. There's a few different information sources out there on how to take a grain sample. Usually that's for like a whole entire semi of grain. Hopefully your grain bag is homogenous enough that you can kind of get a grab sample in there. We don't get a whole lot of samples of packaged grain usually because that comes with the guarantee analysis. But if it is something that you have concern about the quality of it, you can reach out to us and we can help give you specialized instructions or talk to your manufacturer, see if like they do know if there's a problem batch out there, it's touchy subject I feel like because if there's suspect grain, they need to know where that's coming from and be able to track it all the way through.


Katy Starr (18:31):

And Dr. Cubitt, I'm curious so I mean obviously we know that there's the information that's on like a grain or a concentrate bag but they also have like guaranteed analysis with like minimums and maximums and things like that. So when you're kind of like building a diet, do you go off of the analysis that's on the bag or how do you kind of work that in? From a perspective as a nutritionist that's like working to build this diet.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (18:56):

That is certainly where I start. Sometimes not all of the things that I want to build into my ration program are listed on the tag. So I'll always call the company. That's one of the first indicators of transparency. If the company has somebody that actually answers the phone, that's a good thing. And if they're willing to share that information with me, that's also very beneficial. Now one thing that equine feeds will not list is the digestible energy value because as Sarah can attest, there are actually several different calculations that people use for digestible energy. I'll always ask. And even between sampling labs as well, they are different, so Equi-Analytical uses one, there are other labs that will use different values. So I'm always asking which energy calculation are you using? And then you know, I can work it out that way but I'll also ask the company what's the digestible energy of the product.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (19:56):

Now most of the time with a lot of the feed companies that I will work with that might be clients, I don't represent them personally but their clients and my clients are using that feed. I know people that work for all these companies and I trust that the values that they're writing on the tags, you know that's a legal document. So what you write on a tag is legally binding. So most people aren't gonna be sketchy. Now if it's just a local mill mix that maybe someone's getting made themselves and they just have some chicken scratch on a piece of paper as to what's supposed to be in it, then I actually have sent several of those to Equi-Analytical and have been not surprised I guess cuz I knew it wasn't gonna be what they said it was. But it's very eye eye-opening. You know, it's supposed to be 16% crude protein and it's 10 or stuff like that. So yeah, I, I actually have sent several samples but it's usually not from a commercial company, it's just some backyard thing that's getting made.


Sarah Fessenden (20:57):

And I'll, I'll add on that, just acceptable variation mentioning that you tested something that's a 10 when it said it’s going to be a 16, that's not acceptable variation, that's too far apart. But um, we do get questions on people that have tested grain and it's like a half percent different than the tag and like, oh well that's, that's in the acceptable range, you know, legally they're covered by that and we see that all the time in the lab. If we take the same sample and run it twice in a row, we'll get slightly different values cause that's how variation works.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (21:28):

But when you look at your feed tag you're guaranteed analysis typically there will be in tiny little letters mins and maxes. And so for a minimum that's, it just has to be at least that. So you know, it would be not smart of the manufacturer to make it double that but that wouldn't be wrong. It just had to be a minimum of that. Okay. So like I've, I've just opened a supplement here and a minimum and maximum is needed for calcium so that we’d have like it's a tight range but other things like manganese for example, you just need a minimum, lysine is just a minimum where you wanna make sure that you know, if you have a maximum for something and it's way below that then that wouldn't be great either. But take notice of, if you are gonna be sending in something to get tested those minimum, those tiny little min and max numbers really will help.


Katy Starr (22:30):

And Sarah, so you had mentioned you know kind of refrigerating the sample if it's like a pasture sample sending it in you could overnight it or keep it cool when you get it sent out, do you have specific timeframes for whether it be a feed sample, a dry hay sample or like a pasture sample? How quickly it does need to get to the lab to ensure the nutrients that are there?


Sarah Fessenden (22:55):

Any dry sample should be fine over a couple days. Hopefully it doesn't take a couple days. I will say we say choose your carrier at your own risk, we've all seen mailing disruptions in the last several years so we always caution against who are you gonna ship with and we do have a UPS portal on our website just letting people know that's out there for getting samples to us and that does give discounted rates for overnighting and the things that will recommend overnighting will be your samples that can degrade so fresh pasture and then water. Water, if you want bacteria analysis does have to be there within 24 hours of sampling. That's a pretty tight timeframe. So generally water is limited to a certain geographical area. If you are not in the northeast, there's probably a lab near you that can also do water testing.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (23:43):

I can't remember. Sarah do you all test for Mycotoxins?


Sarah Fessenden (23:47):

We forward those on, I believe, I can't remember where, but all that’s also on our website I won't try to pull it up.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (23:55):

Yeah I was trying pull it up before cause I can't quite remember.


Sarah Fessenden (23:58):

We do forward them on, I just remember which we send it to.


Katy Starr (24:03):

And then obviously this, you might be working with an equine nutritionist and so this is not gonna be as a big of a deal for you or you know for horse owners if they are. But can you talk to us about some of the common types of equine forage and feed analyses that are actually ran in the lab? You kind of briefly touched on them initially when we started, but how do we know which tests to choose from?


Sarah Fessenden (24:31):

Yeah, so we have I think four main packages that people choose from. Our most common ones are our 601, our Equi-Tech and our 603, our Trainer. So those are both comprehensives packages. It has everything from minerals, fibers, carbohydrates, pretty much everything. The main difference between the two packages is our 601 uses NIR and then wet chemistry for the minerals and then the 603 is fully wet chemistry. There are different camps out there on whether they accept NIR. NIR is great for all your typical feeds. It won't do your minerals as well because it measures organic activity.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (25:09):

Let's back pedal and explain to our listeners what NIR is.


Sarah Fessenden (25:15):

So NIR stands for near infrared reflective spectroscopy.


Katy Starr (25:18):

That's a mouthful.


Sarah Fessenden (25:21):

Mouthful yep. So it’s a non-combustive way of analyzing and it's based off of measuring the wavelength from, oh, I'm not gonna remember the range off the of the top of my head, something like 800 to 2400 nanometers. So it's part of the, the wavelength that we're used to seeing, you know the rainbow ray at the end. But this is the part that we can't see. So it's measuring the organic activity that's coming off of a sample. So that's why it doesn't do so well with minerals. Minerals are inorganic and this isn't talking organic like grocery store, we're talking chemistry organic On your typical feeds NIR is great, our calibrations we've been building since the eighties.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (26:01):

And so it compares those wavelengths to a massive database of other samples.


Sarah Fessenden (26:07):

Yeah so it basically creates a fingerprint, a spectral fingerprint and it takes a look at what the scan we just created from this sample is and compares it to either a hundred of its nearest neighbors. So saying like you are closest to all of your cousins versus our entire database. So it's like here's how you compare it to the world. So, and that's a difference between local and global calibrations. A lot of labs are running global and those are great, those are using a very large database. We're able to use local for a lot of ours where it is finding the closest neighbors, which gets you an even more accurate result and the strength of a calibration comes from how many samples are in the database but also the outliers. How many weird samples have we seen that kind of widen out that bell curve and show us more of how weird can hay get.


Sarah Fessenden (26:57):

So all that to say NIR is really good for your typical samples. Hays, pastures we can handle those by NIR. If you've got a sample that has high contamination from dirt soil, that's not gonna do as well by NIR but you also probably shouldn't be feeding that. So we'll say that's not one of the good hays. If you have a true outlier, something that was grown in odd conditions or is some really weird variety of hay we can do that by wet chemistry if you have doubts on it, always feel free to call into us and all of our results are reviewed by our team of editors. So if there's something that looks outta range, it'll be caught and go retest it to make sure that those are the correct values.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (27:40):

And with my clients I typically say you know NIR because it's reasonably priced as well, it's the less expensive. We know that it's not maybe as accurate as the wet chem but I recommend they do that. That is that you know, if there's nothing really wrong with your horse and you wanna test your hay and we're balancing a normal ration, perfect. If I have a really, a horse that also, you know, you were talking about maybe if there's some outliers in the conditions that it was grown and you think it might be a bit weird that we would do wet chem. If I have a horse that I am really trying to dial in every aspect of this diet and we've got things going wrong and it's the first time I'm testing hay, I will typically use wet chem as a base as my first test as well to balance that diet because I know that it's gonna, you know, take into account the minerals better and is probably going to be a little bit more accurate. But I don't dissuade people from NIR, unless there's something either seriously different with the hay or the horse.


Sarah Fessenden (28:45):

And also NIR as well as being lower cost is much faster. We'll see generally about a day turnaround from when we receive the sample. Wet chem can take a couple days and depending on the analysis, we have some, it's for ruminate time points, but it takes 10 days to digest the sample. Believe it or not, we have not figured out a way to make 10 days go faster.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (29:07):

, it's funny cause I'll do a wet chem first and then they have that as the idea of the timeframe and then when we do NIR they're like oh you're miraculous. No I just mail it, then someone else does it but they think it's wonderful. Don't go the other way though .


Sarah Fessenden (29:23):

Yeah the other way you'll have a little bit of a shock.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (29:25):

You know like it took two days before what is wrong?


Katy Starr (29:28):

The understanding, the differences there with the price and time. I remember with the lab that I worked at, obviously I'm in southern Idaho and so Sarah you probably get there's, it's like dairy country around here and so that's what a lot of the hay is used for and NIRs were the go-to for a lot of the hay brokers when they were like, I need this result now so I can get this all this hay sold and going. So it's just kind of interesting seeing the differences between the two and and what they kind of offer. So Sarah, once we get our results back, there are a lot of nutrient terms that, I don't know, some horse owners may not understand all of it, right? They don't know what all of it means, especially if they're not working with an equine nutritionist. So how do we, I want to kind of start with how do we define moisture percentage and dry matter percentage because I know that that comes into play when you're starting to, you know, balance a ration for an animal.


Sarah Fessenden (30:27):

Haven't heard it kind of broken down like that so it’s interesting an interesting question. You feed things on an as fed basis that is as it appears that’s your moisture. Dry matter is how we balance typically, at least that’s how I used to balance diets when I was doing dairy nutrition. I imagine equine is fairly similar because that takes out that moisture level which can fluctuate some. Typically with hay it's not fluctuating a whole because hay is dry unless you’re soaking it. And there are special instructions on how to submit samples if you soak your hay. I’d recommend calling us for that one. But you're typically balancing it on your report sheet. We have gotten questions about this in the past, why is there no moisture value in my dry matter amount? I have no dry matter value inmy moisture amount. It’s because there's two columns on the page, it's just because they add up to 100, we can't have both on that one. But interpreting the rest of the report we do have resources on our website breaking down what each acronym is. It's a different language for sure. Not everyone knows what ADF, and ANDF and ANDF and M are. So we do have a helpful sheet on breaking those down. And then of course working with your nutritionist is a great way to make your results work. But we also have links on, if you wanna go look at how your results compare to our database. We have a feed library that shows all the samples we receive. So you can see how you compare it to that average of either the year or all time, all time being since like 2001 I think.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (32:00):

I use that all the time.


Sarah Fessenden (32:02):

It's one of my favorite things we do.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (32:04):

Oh it's fantastic. Yes.


Sarah Fessenden (32:06):

I always advocate using our feed library just, we're the only ones that are publishing that value. We are a nonprofit and that's a big part of our mission is supplying this data. And it's great to see what you can do with seeing what feeds look like. On the Equi-Analytical website it's a little bit paired down. We have limited feeds and kinda distinctions on it, but if you click over to our Dairy One website, there is a larger library that you can limit by state and by, I don't think you can do region, but you can do by growing season. And that can also give, give you a little bit more clear idea of how your hay compares. And then we also have tools for going and balancing rations, which I know is a cautionary area if you don't have any nutrition knowledge. But there are resources if you aren't working with a nutritionist, I’ll always say work with a nutritionist, but if you can't or you just wanna look at how things play together, there's some resources out there too. And also NRC is great, there's links to the NRC there too.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (33:05):

When I was going through grad school, it was certainly the dry matter values that are so much more typical that you would see on a forage report. I kind of in my head would say that's how we compare between hays and I used it more as a hay term. I actually balance rations on an as sampled basis because that's what my horse is eating and I feel like who's, who's putting their grain or hay or grass in a microwave and or in an oven and drying out all the moisture. So it's mainly for, I need people to feed enough of, to get the nutrition in it and if they take away the moisture content then they might be inclined to feed too little because they think it's more concentrated than it really is. The horse does eat all of that water and it is part of the weight cause we feed by weight.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (33:58):

So, you know, I have to caution people, there is afermented like ensiled forage company that sells in these compressed bags and the guaranteed analysis that they list is on a dry matter basis and it looks fantastic but the product is 80% moisture and 20% dry matter. So when I say you have to feed your horse, you know, one and a half percent of their body weight in fiber and so they weigh out this wet stuff and say okay I'm feeding 15 pounds of it. No actually only 20% of that is dry matter. You're feeding a lot of very expensive water. So I do formulate on a, I know the dairy side and the other livestock don't, but I balance rations on an as fed basis mainly because I want people to realize what they're actually feeding their horse and it's easier for me to, to kind of break it down and be more simplistic if I start talking about dry matter and taking the moisture out, their eyes just glaze over.


Sarah Fessenden (34:55):

When I was balancing diets you know you had the chemical fill of your diet, and then you had the physical fill and usually with moisture take into account you're hitting physical fill before chemical fill. Especially on high fiber diets or high forage diets. It's not fiber, that I just call it fiber cause it's ‘the fiber.’


Katy Starr (35:14):

And I think that's sometimes it, if people get confused, it's making sure that you're understanding if it is being done on an as fed basis or dry matter basis because especially if you're doing multiple samples of different types of feed product, whatever you do, it needs to be on the same, right? You don't wanna be doing as fed for one and then dry matter for the other. And so I'm so glad that you guys are talking about this cause I think it's a really good thing for us to think about.


Sarah Fessenden (35:42):

And our reports do have both values so you don't have to request that, it's all reported in one way or the other. They're both on the report.


Katy Starr (35:50):

And thiskind of goes along with it. Dr. Cubitt, you have mentioned on a previous episode before about how much fiber a horse needs to consume if they're, you know, eating pasture versus eating dry hay. Cause you know, often we speak a lot in terms of dry hay, they need to have, you know, one and a half, two and a half percent of their body weight. But that changes things up a little bit if they're in pasture and that, can you just elaborate a little bit on that just to give us some context for this?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (36:19):

So these values that nutritionists in general and veterinarians will use of the one and a half to two and half percent of body weight and fiber per day, that's dry matter. That is straight up dry matter, forget the water. And so we, it's not 100% accurate but it's accurate enough, we synonymously use hay. Okay so if I need, if you need to feed one and a half pound percent of the horse's body weight, let's use a thousand pounds, you've gotta feed 15 pounds of hay. Well it's probably closer to 15 and a half or 16 because hay is not a hundred percent dry matter but it's close enough. So we just say that's how much hay you have to feed. That's why I caution people with the fermented type product, which was 20% dry matter, you had to feed significantly more or pastures also 80% water at certain times of the year.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (37:10):

So that's why we say that if your horse is eating pasture and that's gonna give them their fiber requirement for the day, their fiber requirement hasn't changed, it's still a minimum of one and a half percent of body weight dry matter. So they have to eat considerably more actual grass to make that value. So it's two acre, I think the general rule of thumb is two acres per horse of pasture that is 75% coverage of real plants, not weeds that they shouldn't be eating and it's about six inches tall. So very few people actually have that.


Katy Starr (37:45):

Right. And Sarah you kind of talked about, you know, working with your nutritionist or you know, some tools that you guys have on the website, you know, once you get your results back and maybe this might be a question more for Dr. Cubitt so we'll kind of see how that plays out. But what are some key nutrients that we should be paying attention to when we get our results back? And obviously this, like you said, it's gonna be dependent on the animal that we're feeding and you know, our goals with the nutrition for that animal, but what should we be paying attention to see if we have quality horse hay that we're testing?


Sarah Fessenden (38:25):

Yeah so it definitely does depend on your animal and what they need, what they are expending for energy. Generally when I’m look at a report the first values I’m picking out, mostly on dairy nutrition, but this applies for equine, I'm looking at my macronutrients, I'm looking at my fibers, my protein, my minerals, like my calcium, phosphorus, stuff like that. The big players that are gonna, or potassium not phosphorus, but taking a look at what are my big values that are making up most of my feed and kinda valuing then what is my feed primarily going to be used for. Talking hay and pasture, you're primarily using your hay for fiber content, but I also wanna know my energy, my protein, what are those contributing to my diet and what are they limiting in my diet? If they're gonna be filling up chemically on fiber, I'm not gonna be getting as much protein out of it so do I need to balance more with protein and probably we can talk more about the nutritionist side of that, but looking at my report I do wanna see how those values play together and there's just easy formulas for knowing that, is this a higher protein feed than it typically is? Is this the lower fiber feed than it typically is and how do those interact in the diet?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (39:42):

I would go one step further and I would not use the word quality anymore and I would use appropriateness and is it appropriate for your horse? And so all of those values, whether they're appropriate for the horse at hand, I either, I'm the same, I'm looking at looking at digestible energy, crude protein, ADF and NDF and then I'm gonna look at the sugars and starches and then the last thing I actually look at is the ratios of the minerals. Because typically I can correct those with a supplement pellet very easily. The ADF and the NDF, okay, let's say I have a really fat horse that, you know, he has to still eat a certain amount of fiber but he eats it so fast and you know, I'm trying to limit, decrease his body weight. So I'm not as concerned about a hay that has a higher ADF and NDF number.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (40:40):

ADF is a measure of digestibility. NDF is a measure of palatability to make it super simple. I mean there are certainly other things that go into it, but that's the most simplistic view. So for a really fat horse, if the hay has higher ADF and NDF values, I'm not that concerned it'll slow him down. He won't be a pig. But if it's a lactating brood mare who every mouthful of food, it's like a dairy cow, every mouthful they take has to be as full of nutrition as it possibly can cause there's gonna be no other time in that animal's life that they're gonna have higher requirements, then high ADF and NDF, they're not gonna wanna eat it, they're not gonna get a lot out of it. That wouldn't be an appropriate hay for that horse, protein, same thing you got a, you know, middle aged horse that doesn't do much, middle of the road protein's fine.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (41:28):

You got a young growing horse, need it higher. Energy. Oftentimes I'll have people say, look I buy my hay from the same guy every year. He grows it on the same fields. Your feed is failing me cause this year my horse is losing weight and I'm feeding the same amount of hay I always have and I have even looked at hay and said, oh it looks fine. And then we get the hay test back and we're like wow, this has 6% crude protein. Of course your horse is losing weight. It's not ideal for a growing horse.


Sarah Fessenden (41:56):

I always say you can't judge a hay effectiveness, or quality, we can't judge it by looks. We used to have a, a fun, we'll call it a parlor trick, at shows. We would take this sun-bleached bale of hay and this really green bale of hay and have the two tests and everyone say, Oh I wanna feed that green bale and it was not as good as you'd want to feed. The sun-bleach was fine, it just was sun-bleached.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (42:22):

Sun-bleached on the outside. Exactly. I always say you cannot, if I find a person in the audience that can tell me how much calcium, how much copper, how much zinc and selenium is in my hay, I will give you a million dollars. Cause I guarantee you can't see that stuff.


Sarah Fessenden (42:36):

Yeah. My only skill is being able to squeeze silage and guess at the moisture. That's the only value I can take without a test.


Katy Starr (42:44):

So I know this is more common when we're looking for dairy quality hay, but it's still terminology that kind of buzzes around. And there are some, I mean my experience, there's been some misconceptions on this value how it's determined. But can you tell us a little bit about relative feed value? And I know it's like, I know it's like a tough one, but it's one of those things that you know, people don't fully understand and they take it to, specifically to the number that it is rather than understanding what it truly means and represents.


Sarah Fessenden (43:19):

I wish a relative feed value did not exist. I know that's controversial.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (43:25):

She's the alfalfa queen, she loves it.


Katy Starr (43:27):

I do not, I do not like relative feed value and working at a lab, I never understood that more until I worked in a lab and how people use that number because it is not accurate.


Sarah Fessenden (43:38):

Oh my gosh. I, I was speaking at a hay broker conference and I throughout the like RFV statistically could drift 12 points and be the same value and they were like, but we price on this, we price per point. I'm like, yeah, you're wrong.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (43:57):

And I'm sure it was a room full of men and you're saying don't use this. And they're like, what does she know?


Sarah Fessenden (44:03):

Yeah. They're like, Oh sweetie, go get me coffee. And I'm like, ok, well here's some values to back me up. So RFV is calculated and calculated values are going to amplify any of that analytical variation that we talked about earlier. So if you have your ADF or your NDF drift by a point, which is fine, RFV is gonna magnify that. So then you're drifting by five to 10 points and RFV I'll give it the credit that it's valuable for ranking compared to other hays if you're gonna use one value. But like we talked about earlier, hay isn't trade like one for one, right? You could have a hay that's better, crude protein is better for certain uses and then you have one that's better on fibers and that's better for other uses. You're lactating broodmare.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (44:53):

Isn't it based on alfalfa is like the gold standard that's like oats in the sugar starch world. Oats is a hundred alfalfa is like, that's the baseline. And I think in other livestock industries where the animals are identical and we want the same criteria in our feed is going to, you know, all the animals will respond the same and give us the same measure of a success. And so it kind of works better in those industries. In the equine industry though, as we've just even talked about here, that every horse is different, every person's outcome or success of their horse is different. The way we feed them is different. And so having, there's no measure of success, there's no standardized level of output. So having one standardized unit of measure is ridiculous when it comes to the horse industry. It just doesn't work.


Sarah Fessenden (45:44):

Yeah, if, if you're gonna look at one value, I advocate a little bit more for using RFQ. So that's relative feed quality and that's another calculation. So again, it's on my bad list, but it does take it into account one of your NDF digestibility time points, which again, that's calculated off of ruminants, but it does give you a little more of an idea of the degradability of the fiber. And so changing the value. So RFQ, I haven't run the math on how much that can drift and be statistically equal. It's still probably gonna be more any measured value. But RFV, if you have to use it, just take it with a grain of salt and understand that 10 point variation is fine and acceptable.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (46:31):

In the horse world, a low value might actually be the most appropriate for your horse.


Sarah Fessenden (46:37):

Yeah, if you've got someone that you need to slow down. Yeah, like you're talking about you want a crappy hay, you want straw.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (46:45):

And people do actually feed straw. So that's why I think it's appropriateness relative feed appropriateness and it comes down to the horse, individual horse.


Sarah Fessenden (46:55):

I'd rather just get rid of RFV.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (46:57):



Sarah Fessenden (46:58):

We would have angry customers.


Katy Starr (47:00):

The equation also is based for, it's based for dairy cattle anyway, right? So yeah, I mean it, if you go beyond what you've even just said, if you're moving outwards to other species like horses, it's really gonna throw you off because it's not really made for determining the value for horses.


Sarah Fessenden (47:22):

Yeah, and it just kills me that they price on it. I'm like, well, 10, 12 points.


Katy Starr (47:27):

It was a bit shocking for me, I was like oh, okay . Okay, I think that's really all that I had for today. I don't know if you have anything else to add, Dr. Cubitt, but Sarah, I don't know if you have, maybe, maybe you could just share a few takeaways that you would like to leave our listeners with today based off of the conversation that we had.


Sarah Fessenden (47:48):

Test, please test not just because it sends us samples, but because it really helps you make the most of what you have and take a good sample, if you're not gonna take a good sample don't bother testing. It's really your basis if you're balancing diet for any animal, or even yourself we've all looked at diets before, right? You, you need to know what's going into it. So you have to test, there's conflicting information out there about, you know, NIR versus wet chem. Nitrates, RFV, all these things. At the end of the day, if you haven't measured, then you don't have much to go off of. So test and our website has a ton of resources, please feel free to use them. We put them out there for a reason.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (48:32):

I would definitely back up everything that Sarah said. And Dairy One/Equi-Analytical has always been in the kind of scientific community, the gold standard lab. One thing I would say is whatever lab you pick to, to sample your hays or pastures or grains stick with the same lab because there is between lab variation, there's much less variation within the lab. But between labs there is different techniques that slightly different techniques, slightly different way of doing things. Obviously I said there is differentways of measuring digestible energy or calculating it. So I would say stick with the one lab and if you're trying to compare hay tests between labs, then it's not always that accurate to do that or fair. I wouldn't say that it's that fair either. I personally have, I have been buying - I have cows and this year buying hay, obviously with all the prices everything's gone up and I've got two particular growers that I will buy from.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (49:36):

But this year the, I know that I get decent hay from both of them, this year the deciding factor was who was going to give me a hay analysis and I will buy your hay. And so there are some people that, you know, they buy a couple of bales at a time or they don't have room to store it. So doing a hay test on every bale that comes into their farm isn't practical. I recommend asking the store that buys the hay if you're buying a couple, that they get hay tests from the growers. It's not unrealistic to ask growers to provide you with a hay test. For them, they're then selling a branded hay product and they can get more more money for a product that they know exactly what they're selling. So if you physically can't, aren't in a position to do hay testing, as Sarah said, I mean I work with lots of feed companies that they will do a hay test for you with the core, they will come and that is a value-added service that they will provide.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (50:35):

Extension offices will do it and they will come with a hay corer. Now you might still have to pay for it, but they're gonna come and do a proper test. So there are, even if you're just buying one or two bales, if you have a horse that has issues, metabolic syndrome for example, don't feed at anything that you don't know exactly what it is. So there are other ways of getting around that you buying one or two, there's lots of people that will help you with a value-added service. And these days when we're all looking for, you know, decreasing our costs and who's gonna partner with you, who's gonna help you, like reach out to people, are you gonna help me? Are you gonna help me do a hay test? And align yourselves with people that are gonna help you. And I will say that the forage analysis you get back will freak you out.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (51:21):

You will see it if you have never used to seeing it, you will say, what an earth is this? And again, align yourself with somebody who's not just gonna throw you a piece of paper and say, okay, have fun. Pick a hay based on this. Work with somebody who also values the hay test as the most important part,tool in building your diet. A feed company that says let's test hay, that's the feed company you wanna work with, right? Because they realize that whatever they're selling you, has to compliment. We always called it supplement, that freaks people out. Cause they think supplements come in a bucket, right? But anything you feed that's not hay or pasture is really a supplement. It's supplementing what you're not getting out of that hay or pasture. Which doesn't matter whether you buy it from the same person every year and they cut it outta the same fields, you don't control the weather and the environmental conditions significantly change the nutritional values, not so much the vitamin, the minerals, but certainly the protein and energy. So, I can't say enough for testing hay or buying hay that has been tested so you know exactly what you're getting.


Sarah Fessenden (52:29):

And I'll add, if you can't get a sample to us in the northeast, we do have labs that we work with that we license our NIR calibrations. So you can get that NIR analysis. Not all of them offer wet chem, or they can forward us to do the wet chem. So we have one in Idaho and then we do have one in Washington that both can do great hay analysis and if you're looking outside the US we can take international samples. But we also have a network around the globe. We have a few across Canada, some in Australia, pretty much everywhere. It's all on the Dairy One website, but they're affiliated labs or labsthat can offer their analysis as well.


Katy Starr (53:07):

That's excellent. Sarah, maybe you can share with our listeners just so they can kind of stay connected to you, you know, the website, how they can be able to reach out to you if they wanna, you know, follow up with any questions specific to, you know, sending samples into a lab.


Sarah Fessenden (53:22):

Yeah, so the website is Equi-Analytical, you just Google it and they'll take you to our website and we do have, our customer service email is at the bottom of that. That will direct you to our excellent team. Megan is primarily the one that will get back to you and she is fantastic. And then to get a hold of me is my name at Dairy One. So it's Yeah, email and our website. That'll be the easiest way to get ahold of us. Oh, and on our website we do have a new text desk feature so you can text in from there and that'll go back to the same customer support team. So just another way to get to us. There's of course the phone number, but we’re millennials, right? We're supposed to be using digital methods .


Katy Starr (54:03):

Everybody likes to do things in a different way. So I think it's great that you're finding ways to reach out to a variety of people. So, excellent. And thank you to our listeners for joining us today. I hope you found this conversation to be useful. We talked about a lot of information, but if you have any topic ideas that you would like us to talk about on the Beyond the Barn podcast, please feel free to reach out to us at with any of your ideas. And again, Sarah, Dr. Cubitt, thank you so much for joining us today.


Sarah Fessenden (54:38):

Yeah, thank you. It's great to be here.


Katy Starr (54:42):

Thanks for listening to the Beyond the Barn podcast by Standlee Forage. We'd love for you to share our podcast with your favorite people and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform. Until next time, keep your cinch tight and don't forget to turn off the water.


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