Establishing and maintaining a thick and vibrant alfalfa stand can be a challenge. Harsh winter weather, soil quality, moisture, age of the stand and other factors all contribute to stand quality—whether good or bad. One strategy for improving stand quality is to incorporate grasses into the stand or planting grasses along with new-seeding alfalfa fields.
In nature and in some regions around the country, mixed forages are common. Diversity is nature’s model with benefits of a blended crop experienced in two key areas:
1. Greater harvest yield and quality
- More rapid hay / haylage drying (with some grasses)
- Improved Neutral Detergent Fiber Digestibility (NDFD)
- Improved overall alfalfa quality and fiber availability
- Less potential for traffic damage and wider harvest window
- Decreased need for long-term persistence
- Greater response to manure
2. Persistence and ground cover
- Greater snow catch, offering better insulation with or without snow
- Reduced alfalfa heaving
- Insurance where alfalfa does winter kill or where areas of a field are not suited for legumes
- Reduced weed encroachment
- Erosion control
One of the quickest ways to improve a thinning alfalfa stand is to consider overseeding. Overseeding is a method by which other forage species like grasses are introduced into an established stand. Grasses blended into alfalfa stands generally produce higher yields of forage than stands blended with other legumes, and should be considered when higher yields are important. However, yield is not the only criteria and when considering grass varieties available. Consult with your Northside agronomist to determine optimum grass variety for your situation and to meet your objectives.
Considerations On Grass Species
The fixed costs of forage harvesting are large so every cutting needs to be optimized. A small grain or Italian/annual ryegrass companion crop with a spring seeding provides greater seeding-year yield than direct-seeded alfalfa. Sod-forming grasses like reed canarygrass or smooth bromegrass enable traffic on the field when more soil moisture is present and will accelerate drying rate, reducing the potential for weather related losses. Orchardgrass and tall fescue have good fall growth that enables a productive fall harvest / grazing while providing more residue than just alfalfa stubble to catch snow and insulate alfalfa crowns. Grass that is “over-mature” has low forage quality and dries slower, due to a lower leaf/stem ratio. Therefore, it is important to select the right maturities when considering grass types and varieties. On the other hand, stemmy grass make fluffier windrows, which helps drying.
At similar stages of maturity, grasses have higher Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) than legumes, but considerable high NDF digestibility (Figure 1). The Relative Feed Value (RFV) index is a good index for alfalfa quality, but it tends to undervalue the feeding value of grasses. The new Relative Forage Quality (RFQ) index provides a better reflection of grass’s higher fiver digestibility and the impact of that on energy and intake potential (Figure 2). Many dairymen feed straw to add fiber to their rations; forage grasses provide that fiber in a more digestible form.
To capture the maximum RFQ from the alfalfa, the grass component should dry as quickly as the alfalfa. Orchardgrass, tall fescue and timothy are popular companion grasses for alfalfa. They form bulky windrows which allow for air circulation. It reduces the need for tedding which would cause leaf loss from the alfalfa.
Criteria for evaluating grass species to mix.
- Desired forage quality
- Yield objectives
- Maturity of current stand
- Desired length of time for extending stand viability
- Climatic conditions (wet or dry)
- Drying rate
- Italian and annual ryegrass
- Small grains
- Timothy, smooth brome, Kentucky bluegrass
- Reed canarygrass
- Tall and meadow fescue, perennial ryegrass
Fertilize And Consult
Grass species vary with differing re-growth characteristics, seasonal distribution, response to cutting, cut height, fiber digestibility and more. Establishing and maintaining adequate fertility and moisture are necessary for optimum growth and yield performance. Your Northside agronomist can advise on field conditions, recommendations for seed varieties, application protocols, and fertilizer to ensure your harvest is optimized this growing season and beyond.
DIY Tips For Optimizing Milk Production
When feed changes or milk production drops, a first instinct is to call your nutritionist. This can be a great first stop but below are a few tips you can check on your own.
- Schedule personnel to push up feed at least eight to nine times per day to encourage cows to get up and eat.
- Personnel needs to routinely pull manure back and away from behind cows to reduce risk of mastitis and promote health.
- Be sure cows are lying down for 14 hours/day for better blood flow to the udder — leading to improved production.
- Check for mold and yeast in feed and use a TMR acid product or mycotoxin binder to improve palatabiltiy and help maintain intake.
The Eyes Have It!
March is eye safety month! Many people think eye injuries only occur in manufacturing, construction or trade jobs, but because of the diversity of tasks on the farm it is important to keep in mind eye safety when completing tasks there as well. Flying objects, tools, particles, or chemicals can cause temporary or permanent vision loss. A few tips to help protect your eyes while working on the farm:
- Wear appropriate safety eye were for the tasks you are preforming.
- If working in an area with particles or dust, be sure to wear safety glasses with side shields to protect against flying objects.
- When working with liquids that have the potential to splash, wear safety goggles.
- If working around any welding, be sure to use a welding helmet for the task.
- Keep your eye protection clean and, when necessary, have eye protection that provides proper UV protection.
Remember, taking the step to do something as simple as putting on a pair of safety glasses can prevent serious eye injuries.