CropWatch April 9, 2010: Replacing Alfalfa with Grass-Alfalfa Mixtures
April 9, 2010
Hay growers in our area often plant new fields to alfalfa without even thinking about other alternatives. For lots of folks, pure alfalfa is the best choice, but for many of you, it might be better to mix in some grass, like orchardgrass, smooth brome, or festulolium.
Grass-alfalfa mixtures offer several advantages. If you regularly feed more than five or six pounds of alfalfa per day to stock cows during winter, they probably are getting more than enough protein but may not be getting enough TDN (total digestible nutrients). Mixing grass with alfalfa usually lowers the protein but slightly increases the TDN content of hay. This could provide your cows with a more balanced diet. Also, if you graze your hay sometimes, grass will reduce the risk of bloat.
In the field, grass can grow where alfalfa is not well-adapted or fill in spots as alfalfa dies out. This is better than having weeds invade bare areas. Grass-alfalfa mixtures often dry out more rapidly after cutting than pure alfalfa so you might get more hay made without rain damage. And, if it does rain, the mixture usually suffers less injury, both in the windrow and in the bale.
Protein yield per acre may be less with the mix, but total tonnage will be about the same or higher than pure stands. Most of the grass yield will come at first cut, so regrowth will be mostly alfalfa.
Selling a mixture can be more difficult, though, because dairies prefer pure alfalfa and grass is more difficult to grind.
You know alfalfa is good, but maybe for you, mixing it with grass is even better.
Extension Forage Specialist