Published on: 10:45AM May 20, 2014

 AH HA!  You Looked!!


Now that I have your attention, and apparently you don't heed warnings, lets get started with this weeks discussion about Grazing Alfalfa Management

Grazing alfalfa requires top-notch management to ensure optimal stand persistence and animal performance. As with any high-value crop, greater economic return is generally achieved with a higher level of Management.


Several factors affect stand persistence in grazed alfalfa. While some of these factors are similar to mechanically harvested fields, others are unique to grazing.


Management considerations include,

1) proper soil site selection

2) fertility management

3) insect pests

4) season of use

5) appropriate grazing management.


Grazing management for alfalfa persistence can take 2 distinctively different avenues. The 1st is based on continuous stocking with a flexible stocking rate and is most appropriate for grazing tolerant cultivars.

The 2nd approach (and in my opinion, the most important), is to use rotational stocking to regulate extent of defoliation and length of rest period. Management flexibility is also required in this type of system to allow different degrees of defoliation and regrowth depending upon performance objectives. With "optimal" growing conditions, alfalfa may be re-grazed with only 20 to 25 days of rest while environmentally stressful conditions may require rest period of 40 days or more. Typical mid-season rest period are in 28 to 35 day range.


Rotational Stocking

Rotational Stocking uses the rule of thumb that grazing animals need to have daily access to forage that is approximately 4% of their live weight (2.5% intake, 0.5% trampling loss, 1% buffer). This figure can be adjusted up if animals require more Dry Matter Intake (DMI) due to size and/or milk production, if animals will receive supplements (dry free-choice hay) during periods of low production.


Complementary forages

Alfalfa in the vegetative stage may be very high in degradable protein and low in fiber. Even though we may consider this to be very high quality forage, it may actually produce disappointing animal performance. Including grasses with the alfalfa in the pasture may enhance livestock performance. While pure alfalfa hay may produce better results than alfalfa-grass hay mixtures, the alfalfa-grass mixtures often produce better animal performance than pure alfalfa. This basic difference may be due to grasses in a pasture being grazed at much less mature stages than the same grass as a hay crop. Grasses with rapid regrowth potential such as orchard-grass, fescue, or ryegrass are better suited for pasture mixes with alfalfa than are slower regrowth grasses such as timothy or smooth brome-grass.

Companion grasses also benefit the animal through reduction of bloat potential and reducing potential mud problems. Some non-traditional forages such as crabgrass and quack-grass which are not popular as companion grasses in hay systems work well with alfalfa in grazing situations. Grazing alfalfa greatly increases the flexibility of management and opens broader horizons for livestock producers.