CropWatch March 12, 2010: Converting Thin Alfalfa into High Producing Pasture
March 12, 2010
This spring consider rejuventating thin alfalfa stands by interseeding and converting them to pasture.
Most alfalfa fields start to lose stand and production ability after cutting hay for several years. Sometimes winterkill thins stands. When this happens, interseed grasses, and maybe some other legumes, and turn your thinning alfalfa into high producing pasture. You could extend the useful life of your alfalfa field by several years and develop excellent grazing for your livestock.
The most common grasses interseeded into alfalfa are orchardgrass and smooth brome, but other grasses like endophyte-free tall fescue, meadow brome, festulolium, and wheatgrasses also can be used. In addition, include other legumes like red clover for short-term pasture or birdsfoot trefoil if you plan to graze this pasture more than three years. This will add diversity to your animals' diet and help assure good legume growth for several more years.
You must get these new seedlings off to an early start, so be sure to interseed as soon as soils thaw and conditions allow tractor and drills to operate properly. If your alfalfa is relatively thick and vigorous, also take an early hay cutting well before buds form, probably during the first week of May. This will allow sunlight to continue to reach new seedlings below the alfalfa. Then use your good judgment regarding competition from the existing alfalfa for subsequent hay cuts. By mid to late summer you could be able to start to rotationally graze the area.
Extension Forage Specialist