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4th Cutting, What Should I Do?

The Question

I've got a small field of hay (alfalfa/orchardgrass) at my place and we didn't get the 4th cutting done due to weather and grain harvest eating up my time.  It reached at least 50% bloom by the time the first frost hit and is still pretty green now.  I guess my question is what can I do with it now?  I assume I should get it off before next spring.  I use the hay for my wife's horses, but if quality is in question with this cutting I have neighbors with cattle if it's safe for them.  Please advise me on whether to cut it or leave it; if I do cut it, can it be fed safely?

My Answers

If hay is made, do it when there is very minimal chance of regrowth. The crop will regrow with the temperatures we are experiencing. Regrowth of the crop will drain the carbohydrate and protein reserves that will be necessary for winter survival and spring growth.  Keep in mind that it is darn difficult to make dry hay when temperature is low and daylength is short.  Making silage is a better altermative.  Big bales at 50% moisture can be wrapped and ensiled, but with major additional cost.  If harvest does occur, leave a higher stubble than you usually would leave as this provides opportunity for more insulation of the crowns against extreme cold temperatures. 

I don't get as concerned about excess residue as some producers or some of my colleagues seem to.  Yes, there may be a greater chance for meadow vole invasion and some disease if the growth remains, but the plants will be of high reserve status and will have good insulation against winter temperature.  First harvest next year may have some 1999 residue in it that may reduce eye appeal and forage quality to a small degree. 

Quality will not be as good as it could have been, but it should have enough quality  to meet the nutritional demands of most classes of horses and beef cattle. If the crop is made as a silage or hay and deleterious molds don't develop from improper harvest and storage procedures, it can be safely fed. 

The "most right" answer, in my opinion, is to let cold temperatures arrive and graze approximately half of the growth. Employ bloat-control strategies for beef cattle if the alfalfa is dominant and gradual adaptation to the alfalfa-orchardgrass regardless of the animal species used as the "4-legged harvest machine".  Unfortunately, many hay fields are not permanently fenced or producers don't trust a one or two strand electric temporary fence to keep their livestock confined. 

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Keith Johnson
Professor of Agronomy and Forage Crops Specialist
1150 Lilly Hall of Life Sciences
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1150
phone: 765-494-4800
fax: 765-496-2926
e-mail:johnsonk@purdue.edu

 

 

For more forage information contact Dr. Keith Johnson: johnsonk@purdue.edu

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