Evolving to Fit Your Forage Testing Needs: A Look Inside the Dairy One Forage Laboratory

As the crops are growing in the field, many livestock owners have a chance to step back and think about the feed rations that will be made after harvest season. In a horse stable, an owner may be mulling over a recently purchased wagon of hay. And in a zoo, a caretaker may be getting ready to spread out palm tree fonds for a gorilla to enjoy in their enclosure. What do all these things have in common? They are examples of feed being given to different animals.

Another commonality is that these producers and caretakers can send a feed or forage sample to Dairy One and its subsidiaries, Equi-Analytical and Zooquarius. Many industries rely on the Forage Laboratory for sample analysis to give them a report of the nutrient profile in a feed item. Even universities use the laboratory to verify study data or compare different test groups or treatments.

Since 1974, our lab has evolved to meet the needs of numerous customers and the various types of feed inputs they want to analyze. Let’s look at where the Forage Lab is now, and what’s coming soon!

A Sample’s Journey Through the Forage Lab

As mentioned earlier, the Forage Lab can test many different types of feeds, forages, ingredients, and other interesting by-products. When a sample arrives at the lab, its first stop is the Sign-In Department. It’s always an interesting time in the lab when a mail delivery comes through – the team doesn’t always know what to expect! For instance, a farm may have sent in a manure sample, a zoo may have sent a cooler full of fish, and in another box are leaves and twigs from a university graduate student conducting a tree browse study. Once a sample has been identified, numbered, and services assigned, the first step of its journey is completed, and the next stop is the ovens.

Most samples are dried before being ground for analysis testing. Sometimes a sample is sufficiently dry so that it can skip this step, but many samples still have water present in them, so a dry time in the oven removes the excess water that would otherwise cause the grinder to “gum” up. After milling the samples resemble a very fine, homogeneous powder-like substance.

From there, the sample will split off into many different stations in the lab, dependent upon the analysis ordered by the customer. There’s Fibers, Proteins, Special Services, NIR, and even a “Secret Lab” located within the Forage Lab. Each location has special processes and instruments used to conduct the various analyses on the sample. These generate the raw data that is transformed then checked by a Quality Control Data Review Team before being delivered to the customer. Speaking of customers, did you know the Forage Lab can help customers located outside of the United States?

International Samples Analysis

The Forage Lab has an Affiliated Network of Laboratories located in 16 different countries. These labs use the Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIR) calibrations that Dairy One provides via an encrypted platform. The Affiliated Labs dry and grind samples at their location then use the Dairy One NIR calibrations to generate results for select feed and forage types. This team was founded in 2008, and they work not only to build and maintain the calibration libraries of the numerous types of feeds, but they also work in responding to specific requests from the networked labs.

So, if a customer is based in another country and doesn’t want to ship a sample to the U.S., they still have the ability to work with Dairy One to meet their analysis needs!

However, that doesn’t mean a customer still can’t ship a sample internationally to the Forage Lab. On our website are instructions for how to acquire a USDA permit and complete the correct shipping documentation so that a sample will successfully arrive in the U.S. and then be forwarded to our Ithaca, NY labs for analysis.

International samples also build up the range of feeds tested in our laboratory which helps improve the robustness of our Feed Composition Library. This library contains data from the samples that the lab has received over the years, so it encompasses a full variety of regions and crop-growing seasons. Individuals from universities, nutritionists, veterinarians, and others use this information for studies, sample comparisons, and animal diet formulation.

What’s Next for Forage Lab?

As procedures are improved and updated, and new assays become available through research, the Forage Lab team has been working on some new services that will be launched in the future. The first being an expansion of our Digestibility Lab to include wet chemistry starch digestibility. A Digestibility Lab simulates how feed is digested in the cow’s rumen. We have been providing fiber digestibility since the 1990s and the expansion to include starch digestibility is a next logical step. We will begin offering the traditional 7-hour 4 mm assay but as starch digestion is studied further, it’s likely that it could include multiple time points similar to fiber to determine rates of digestibility. The team has also been researching avenues for the testing of amino acids and is anticipating this service to be launched in the very near future. These testing services will not only expand on what we can test in a sample but will also help improve diets made for animals, which is the ultimate goal for the Forage Lab team and its customers.

The Forage Lab at Dairy One has come a long way since 1974 in testing services provided to customers. We hope you enjoyed the peek into how a sample is processed through the lab, how we help customers located across the globe, and what new things to stay tuned for in the future!

For more information, email the Forage Lab at [email protected].