Grass-Alfalfa Mixtures May Offer Benefits Over Pure Alfalfa - UNL CropWatch, April 5, 2013

Grass-Alfalfa Mixtures May Offer Benefits Over Pure Alfalfa - UNL CropWatch, April 5, 2013

April 5, 2013

Hay growers in eastern Nebraska 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, with your alfalfa.

A grass-alfalfa mixture offers several advantages:

  • If you regularly feed more than 5 or 6 pounds of alfalfa per day to stock cows during winter, they probably are getting more protein than they need, but not enough TDN or energy. Mixing grass with alfalfa usually lowers the protein and slightly increases the TDN content, leading to a more balanced diet for your cattle.
  • If you sometimes graze cattle in your hay fields, grass will reduce the risk of bloat. Grass can grow in field areas 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. If it does rain, the mixture usually suffers less injury, both in the windrow and in the bale.
     
  • With the mixture protein yield may be less with the mix, but total tonnage usually is about the same or higher than with pure stands. Most of the grass yield will come at first cut, so regrowth will be mostly alfalfa.

While a grass-alfalfa mixture does offer these advantages, you need to be aware that selling a mixture can be more difficult because dairies prefer pure alfalfa and grass is more difficult to grind.

Before you automatically replant a field to pure alfalfa, consider whether a mixture may offer more of the benefits you need this year.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist