Pasture and Forage Minute: Scouting Plant Growth for Harvest, Grazing

Pasture and Forage Minute: Scouting Plant Growth for Harvest, Grazing

Delayed Alfalfa Cutting: Raise Cutting Height?

Alfalfa regrowth
Alfalfa stands with new growth. (Photo by Ben Beckman)

By Brad Schick

If rain or other setbacks has caused the first cutting of alfalfa to be delayed, raising the cutting height may help the rest of the year.

In some areas of Nebraska, the alfalfa is slower to bloom, but the growth may be very thick and lush. If your alfalfa harvest has been delayed, some of the next cutting may be already starting to grow. Now would be a good time to scout alfalfa fields for this new growth. One can also be scouting for insects at the same time. 

Try to look at the base or crown of the plants and search for new, short shoots that are growing. The new shoots are the second cutting already growing. If the shoots are still below the regular cutting height, there is no need to raise the cutting height if the first cutting will happen soon. If the shoots are taller than the regular cutting height, consider raising the cutting height. Plants that have new shoots that are cut off may have to grow all new shoots for the second cutting and delay the second cutting.

Raising the cutter height a couple inches will reduce yield slightly, but the quality of the very lowest part of the plant is the lowest quality. Usually cutting lower is suggested because more yield can be captured and the regrowth isn’t affected, but with new shoots being cut, regrowth will be affected.

Scout out the field and double check cutting height on fields that may be slightly delayed this year.

Timing of Grass Hay Harvest

By Jerry Volesky

Smooth bromegrass and other cool-season grass hay fields are growing rapidly with seedheads appearing. Here are some tips to make your grass hay suitable for your animals.

When do you cut your grass hay? Maybe you plan to cut during first or second irrigation of corn. Or like some folks, maybe you cut grass hay just when you get around to it.

Instead, how about cutting your grass hay so the grass nutrient content matches with the nutritional needs of your livestock? Now that's a different way to look at it, isn't it? But doesn't it make sense to harvest hay that will meet the specific needs of your livestock and minimize your supplement costs?

Crude protein and energy concentration declines in grass hay as plants become stemmy and mature. As this happens, the types of livestock that can be fed that hay with little or no supplements become more limited.

For Sandhills subirrigated meadows, haying typically starts in early July. However, if harvest occurs around the third week of June, then that hay will have significantly higher crude protein content. Earlier meadow harvest will have lower initial hay yield, but it will also provide a longer regrowth period and extra growth for fall grazing.  

So, a good approach is to plan what type of livestock will receive the grass hay from each field. Young livestock need high nutrient concentrations so cut that hay before or just when heads begin to emerge. If the hay will go to mature dry cows instead, let the grass produce a bit more tonnage and cut it after it is well headed out, but before seeds develop.

Matching your hay harvest with your plan of use can pay handsome dividends in lower costs and less supplementing.

Short Pasture Concerns

By Ben Beckman

A cool spring and dry weather has resulted in lower than expected pasture production in parts of the state. With summer upon us, even ample moisture now may not return pastures — especially those that are cool season dominated — to full productivity. So what can we do to stretch a limited forage supply?

While annual forages that prefer cool temperatures like brassicas and small grains may not be an option to plant, those needing summer forage are right on time to get heat loving species like sorghums, sorghum-sudan hybrids, millets and sudangrass in the ground. These annual grasses can produce large quantities of forage for harvest. Different species lend themselves to different harvest methods, so know how you plan on feeding or grazing before you plant.

Another way to stretch pasture is through improved utilization. Under typical grazing conditions, we only plan on cattle grazing 25% of a pastures production. Half is left for plant health while another quarter is fouled or trampled. Something as simple as a single wire electric cross fence can improve this grazing efficiency to 35%. When paired with a back fence, the rest provided to previously grazed plants can aid in recovery and provide regrowth for use later in the year.

Finally, begin looking at herd records now and make a plan for destocking later on in the year if conditions continue to deteriorate.

Planning for a short forage year is not a task we want to undertake in June, but may be needed this year. If the worst does come to pass, looking at other forage options, better utilizing pasture, and planning for destocking now will be worth the effort. 

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