October Alfalfa Harvests
Cutting alfalfa in October is often discouraged to avoid potential winter injury while it is winterizing. This year, though, things are different.
By mid-October the growing season is pretty much complete. Many folks received some late-season rain and some areas have had light frosts that left alfalfa plants mostly unaffected. So, you might have a substantial, high-quality alfalfa crop remaining in your field.
Alfalfa will have had at least six weeks of regrowth by mid-October since the previous cutting 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 has exceptionally high quality. With high prices paid for dairy and horse quality hay, another cutting is very tempting.
Hay harvest can be difficult, though, because alfalfa dries and cures very slowly in October. If you do cut hay this October,
- be extra 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. Less drying is needed, 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 be cautious about bloat. Also, avoid grazing on wet soils or stand damage could occur.
Good alfalfa in mid-October doesn't have to be sacrificed to maintain winter survival. Just be sure you have allowed adequate time for it to develop winter-hardiness and then select a good harvest method.