Early Alfalfa Cut Offers Benefits
May 8, 2009 The first cutting of alfalfa often is the most important cutting of the year. It usually produces the most yield and its forage quality changes fastest from day to day. This spring alfalfa started slowly, but could begin to grow fast and decline quickly in quality.
Many growers plan to cut alfalfa soon after first blooms appear, but weather can cause long delays and sometimes alfalfa doesn't bloom very aggressively in spring. Plus, waiting until alfalfa begins to bloom often results in hay that is too low in quality for dairy use.
Taking the first alfalfa cutting before plants bloom — or even before they form buds — may be a good option for some producers this year.
Cutting healthy, vigorously growing alfalfa after it gets about 15 inches tall has several advantages:
- Feed value can be very high.
- Weather may be better for cutting now than later in spring.
- Harvest can be spread out, if needed.
- Some insect and disease problems can be reduced by early harvest.
- The second cutting probably will be ready before summer heat lowers its forage quality.
Yield will be lower from this early first cutting, but much of it will be made up in later harvests. Regrowth for second harvest probably will be a bit slower, especially if the alfalfa experienced winter injury. It may be better to allow winter injured stands to begin to bloom before cutting first harvest so plants recover more from their winter stress.
To maintain long-term yields, allow a longer than normal recovery after the first or second cutting.
Extension Forage Specialist