Grazing Alfalfa

A question brought up regards grazing alfalfa fields that are too short to cut. Bruce Anderson, UNL Forage Specialist wrote the following article earlier this year which is another resource for livestock producers. One thing that can’t be emphasized enough is the need to have cows full when turning out and to turn them out early in the afternoon rather than morning as there is less chance of dew and the alfalfa tends to contain more carbohydrates and less bloat-increasing proteins at that time of day.

Anderson went on to say that both drought-stunted alfalfa and well-growing alfalfa might fill the role of a temporary pasture.  To get started, he recommends dividing fields so animals graze no longer than 5 days at a time on any one area.  One rule of thumb is that one ton of standing alfalfa hay will provide about 45 cow days of grazing.  If you estimate your alfalfa would yield one ton of hay if you cut it right now, then one acre should feed 45 cows for one day.  Also if possible, limit the size of paddocks to 10 acres or less to get more uniform grazing.  After grazing a paddock, plan grazing and haying so at least 35 days of regrowth will occur before harvesting the same area again.

To reduce bloat, begin grazing alfalfa after it begins to bloom.  Short, drought-stunted, yet blooming alfalfa should be pretty safe.  Also, be sure animals are full before first turning onto alfalfa and never let animals get hungry.  In addition, begin grazing mid-afternoon and do not turn them onto fresh alfalfa that is moist with dew, rain, or irrigation.  Yearlings tend to bloat less than cows, but feeding supplements like poloxalene, rumensin, and oxytetracycline can help reduce bloat for all classes of cattle.

These precautions and management practices can help you use alfalfa for pasture and overcome the late summer pasture slump.

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