Optimizing Your First Cutting of Alfalfa
While you've been busy planting corn and soybeans, your alfalfa has been busy growing, nearing the time to take the first cutting.
Looking at alfalfa in Nebraska this past week, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some growers getting ready to start cutting. In fact, some folks that need high quality hay for their dairy cows or for a cash crop may already have started cutting, and others should be looking for the next good-weather period.
Being aggressive on the first cutting is critical if high forage quality is needed. Alfalfa’s forage quality changes faster during the first spring growth than at any other time of the year. Plants are maturing and temperatures are increasing, both of which cause quality to decline. If high quality hay is you goal, don't delay harvest.
However, if you're raising hay to feed to beef cows, it may be a little different story, especially if you need to rebuild hay supplies. Normally we get our highest total yield by waiting until alfalfa is near full bloom. Not only is yield highest at the point, but it also allows the alfalfa to use available soil moisture most efficiently for growth. Some dryland fields may need quite a bit more rain for good summer and fall harvests since many deep subsoils remain dry, but with a good first cut you at least will have some hay of good enough quality to feed your beef cows next winter.
Timing of hay harvest is important whether your needs are for high quality or for high yield. With alfalfa becoming ready to cut soon this spring, don’t miss your best time.