Recommendations for Harvesting Alfalfa in October

Recommendations for Harvesting Alfalfa in October

Alfalfa's growing season is pretty much over by mid-October. This year many fields received some late season rain that's contributing to a late-season substantial, high quality alfalfa crop for many growers.

Alfalfa that has had at least six weeks of regrowth by mid-October will have developed adequate winter-hardiness for all but the most severe winters. It also has begun to go dormant naturally because of shorter days and cooler temperatures so harvest is not likely to jeopardize stand persistence. Not only that, October hay often is exceptionally high quality. With high prices paid for dairy and horse quality hay, another cutting is tempting.

An October hay harvest is doable, but can be difficult because alfalfa dries and cures very slowly in October. If you do cut hay in October:

  • be alert to weather reports,
  • use a conditioner to speed dry-down,
  • spread windrows wide for extra exposure to sunlight, and
  • consider using a preservative to protect hay that's baled at higher than normal moisture levels.

When possible, it’s better to harvest alfalfa as haylage in October. It requires less drying and, since drying is slower, haylage can be made at a more uniform moisture content than in summer. October alfalfa also tends to preserve well as haylage.

Grazing is another option, but continue to be cautious about bloat and avoid grazing on wet soils as that can damage the stand.

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A field of corn.