Questions & Answers
Until the early 1990’s, most of the alfalfa that was grazed was older, thin stands that ‘were on their way out’. The only varieties available then were varieties suited for mechanical harvest. Besides, any clear thinking farmer at that time knew that excessive grazing would kill the stand.
Then came Alfagraze and we to our surprise we found we could graze alfalfa and keep stands for as long or longer than before when alfalfa was cut for hay. ABI in cooperation with the University Georgia and Dr, Joe Bouton, released Alfagraze in 1991. Since then we have developed and released more varieties that are more productive and resilient and have a wider area of adaptation.
Here are a few of the most often questions about grazing alfalfa.
Q. What can I expect the main advantages of growing alfalfa instead of other legume and or grasses?
A. Beef cattle gains will be increased, milk production costs will be lowered, and legume stands will persist longer. Bottom line, more profits from grazing.
Q. How do I know an alfalfa variety is grazing tolerant?
A. Ask to see the data. If there are no data, chances are the variety is not grazing tolerant. Chances are, unless the variety traces to the germplasm of Alfagraze, it is not a true grazing tolerant variety.
Q. What are some of the best ways to prevent or deal with bloat?
A. Ease grazers onto alfalfa very cautiously for short periods initially. Never turn hungry-emaciated cattle on lush alfalfa especially when the forage is wet and on cool days. It is always a good idea to pre-fill them with good quality hay or bulk feed. A few days before grazing feed Poloxolene (Bloat Guard) to get them ‘used’ to it. Sell chronic bloaters before they ‘kick the bucket’ and don’t keep calves from chronic bloating cows.
Q. What can I seed with alfalfa to help control bloat?
A. Plant a perennial cool season grass. If orchardgrass is adapted, this is the grass of choice by most grazers. Grass also tends to protect alfalfa from excessive treading damage.
Q. If this alfalfa is grazing tolerant, do I need to subdivide grazing areas?
A. Any time you reduce the size of a grazing area you increase animal gains per acre and profits. How many paddocks and what size? You decide, the smaller the better and you decide when and how close you want the animals to graze and how often to switch-rotate them.
Q. What about using additional legumes with alfalfa when grazing?
A. Fine, but use those that are best adapted. Where red clover is well adapted, even though it needs to be top seeded every year or two, it really does work well. White clover (including the ladino types), grows well but is short-seasoned and is terribly bloat prone, (even more than alfalfa). Trefoil is a dandy where adapted and you have the patience to let it grow.
Q. Is top-dress fertilizing necessary when grazing?
A. Let your soil testing results dictate fertilizing. Chances are, you will need to fertilize and lime ahead of seeding and top dress in most areas for a couple of years until the manure distribution is uniform. After that, test the paddocks on about a two-year basis and treat those areas that need it.
Q. How long should I allow alfalfa to re-grow after grazing?
A. With ideal growing conditions, (water and temperature), about 24-28 days should be about right. Some experienced grazers may get on select areas on a 20-22 day ‘turn’. Really, you should allow time for the new growth to bloom once in a while to build food reserves when practical.
Q. Is it a good idea to harvest surplus grazing as hay or silage?
A. Goodness yes if you need the feed or could use some additional income. This not only can haying keep the grazing cycle on schedule the harvest of surplus growth can provide stored feed if and when you need it.