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Phosphorus Plays Key Role in Hay Growth and Development

It seems intuitive to measure a hay’s quality on physical characteristics—such as color or how it feels to touch. However, the phosphorus content of hay is much more telling. Phosphorus keeps bones and teeth strong and is key in converting macromolecules into energy, among other things. Not only is phosphorus good for the animals consuming the hay as livestock feed, but it also plays a key role in the growth and development of the hay itself.

The best way to keep track of phosphorus level is to monitor the soil. While noting the total amount of phosphorus is a good start, there is more to it. Namely, the amount of phosphorus should be measured in relation to the calcium in the soil. A good ratio of calcium to phosphate in alfalfa soil 5 to 1, whereas it should be closer to 2 to 1 in Timothy-grass. A good ratio of calcium to phosphorus is a better indicator of overall hay quality than phosphorus alone, but, obviously, in order to derive such a ratio, it is necessary to determine how much phosphorus is in the soil.

Phosphorus is naturally-occurring, but there are ways to add more to the soil. Fertilizer and manure are both good, easy-to-obtain sources, but they should be applied in moderation, as too much phosphorus will throw off the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. Instead, the additives should be spread about the soil for the sake of even distribution. After this, the soil’s nutrient make-up should be measured.

Phosphorus may be a very important when it comes to determining a hay’s quality, but that’s not to say that it is the only factor to take into consideration. Other factors that give insight into a hay’s quality include its level of fibers, nitrates and protein. And while physical appearance, as mentioned above, can be a red-herring, a simple eye test can help to reveal obvious deficiencies in quality—such as mold. However, phosphorus remains the most important—as its levels in hay are indicative of a hay’s digestibility and the energy it provides to the livestock consuming it. And when it comes to hay, it’s vital that, first and foremost, the livestock consuming it are kept safe.

Phosphorus might seem to be an under-the-radar factor when it comes to examining the quality of hay, but is really a key factor in assessing whether hay is worth using or if it should be pitched. Thorough soil analysis and using fertilizer and manure to enrichen the soil are one of the many ways to make sure that hay has sufficient phosphorus levels.

Posted By: The Hay Manager

Posted on: 07/29/2016
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