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Growing Alfalfa Hay

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I planted alfalfa seeds and didn't expect so many to actually grow, like in some 6 inch diameter spots I have 15-20 seedlings growing. Do I thin these out? How much distance should there be between plants.

 

Is there a small scale calculation for dry hay yield? What I have found is 9 tons an acre, which calculates to 0.41 pounds a square foot. I assume from 3 cuttings.

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Alfalfa will thin itself. The crowns exude an enzyme that prevents the plants from growing too close to one another.

 

Yield will vary widely depending on management, climate, fertility. Nine tons to the acre would be a very good yield indeed, and would probably be more like four or five cuttings.

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How do you control weeds with chemicals? I have some alfalfa that is six inches tall, but the weeds are a foot tall. The weeds are growing faster than the alfalfa and the weeds have overtook most of the alfalfa.

 

Is there something I should have done before planting seeds?

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You might want to contact your local cooperative extension service. They'd be able to give you advice that's suited to your location.

 

J.

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Thanks!! I didn't know about this extension office service. I called but only was able to talk to the receptionist because the agent was in the field looking at a sick tree for a private party. How cool. The nurseries here just scratch their head when you bring in diseased plant.

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I have a question about alfalfa too.

It's all they grow out here. It's everywhere and just now getting the first cutting.

 

My question is...how come I have so many deer in my hardly growing anything field and I NEVER see wild animals grazing in the growing alfalfa fields? Do they know something I don't? I would expect to see all sorts of wild life in the fields here. But I've figured out that most of the wild life moves up the mountain to where it's cooler at this tiime.

 

Just wondering...

Last night I saw about 6 young mule deer bucks in my dirt field. It's surrounded by huge lush fields of alfalfa....strange.

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My question is...how come I have so many deer in my hardly growing anything field and I NEVER see wild animals grazing in the growing alfalfa fields? Do they know something I don't? I would expect to see all sorts of wild life in the fields here. But I've figured out that most of the wild life moves up the mountain to where it's cooler at this time.

 

Just wondering...

Last night I saw about 6 young mule deer bucks in my dirt field. It's surrounded by huge lush fields of alfalfa....strange.

 

I would think that it's because they would prefer native grasses & plants to alfalfa.

 

Laura

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For those that may be interested, the extension service basically said (she was being real nice about it) that I planted my alfalfa at the wrong time. I planted mine in late spring as a last thought. One is suppose to sow seeds in the fall and it will establish a root system before winter dormancy and will have a jump on the spring weeds the next year. Established alfalfa will choke out most of the weeds. If one has a dry winter, watering is needed.

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For those that may be interested, the extension service basically said (she was being real nice about it) that I planted my alfalfa at the wrong time. I planted mine in late spring as a last thought. One is suppose to sow seeds in the fall and it will establish a root system before winter dormancy and will have a jump on the spring weeds the next year. Established alfalfa will choke out most of the weeds. If one has a dry winter, watering is needed.

 

 

I don't know where you are located but I farmed Alfalfa for many years and never planted in the fall. I am located in BC in the north Okanagan valley where our farming is done under irrigation from May until October. Alfalfa is normally seeded in the early spring (April) or whenever irrigation water becomes available. We normally cultivate in the late fall and leave the ground turned over to kill weed seeds over the winter. We seed with either a nurse crop of barley or oats or with a brillion seeder which deposits the seed 1/2 inch in the ground and turns the soil onto the seed with the second roller. Seeding with a nurse crop is done with a seed drill. The nurse seeding controls the weeds because grains grow much faster than the weeds or the alfalfa and the grain protects the young alfalfa from the scorching sun in this country. We will have as much as 10 tonne to the acre with 4 cuttings per year or about 8 tonnes with 3 cuts. Alfalfa is cut in the 10% bud stage here for best yield and quality. I personally like it cut just previous to bud although you give up some yield for this. As I use most of my hay for either horses or sheep I don't like the stock to get too course. If you are farming dryland it would be very wise to seed for the early spring rains for good germination. Of course, your local Ag dep't will be able to advise you of the proper type of alfalfa to plant. Bob

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Most of the weeds will not return after you take the first cutting. Just make sure you cut before the weeds set seed. As you continue cutting on 30 to 35 day intervals, the weeds will generally not stand up to the abuse, but the alfalfa will thrive.

 

Here in New England, fall seedings are preferred for this reason, but spring seedings are not ruled out by any stretch of the imagination. Just the first cutting is usually considered a loss, or reserved to feed to animals with lower nutritional requirements.

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I wasn't saying that fall planting was the only way to go, just sharing how to solve my weed issue from the information I got from the local agriculture department. I'm in a dairy area and the only thing I've seen anyone grow is alfalfa (not that I keep a close eye on it). The farmers have a drum of something (I assume nutrients) connected to their watering sprinkling system.

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I agree with what Bill has said about alfalfa. We plant spring or fall here, but most prefer spring. The worry is with fost kill around here if you plant fall. This area grows mostly dairy quality hay, and the dairy farmers do know good hay.

 

As to deer..maybe Oregon deer have a better palate :D , but the lil bastids LOVE my alfalfa, and i will move them along briskly when i see them in it :rolleyes:

 

Johnson what did you plan to use the crop for? What are your plans now that it has weeds?

 

9 tons an acre is a lot where do you live?

 

Lana

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I have a couple of Barbados, but I planted alfalfa to make use of some of my land and to see if I could grow it.

 

About a third of my planting area is overrun by weeds, I let the sheep in to mow down the overrun area. Then I'll see if the alfalfa comes back, if it doesn't, I'll re-seed in the fall. The other two thirds I'm hand weeding until the plants establish or I get burned out, which ever comes first :rolleyes:.

 

I got the 9 tons from information on the web for my state. I was trying to get some general idea how much area I needed to sow.

 

What kind of fertilizer does alfalfa need? In the overrun weed area, the alfalfa is growing large as well. This spot has a concentration of cow/horse manure from the last land owners.

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Johnson, fertilizer would depend on your area. I am assuming if you just have a few sheep you were planning to hay it for your own use? You don't have to fertilize or spray for weeds if this is not being sold for quality hay.

 

If you plan to let the sheep into i would be watchful for bloat. Fill the sheep with alfalfa hay before they are allowed to graze, don't put them onto wet forage even with am dew, use intense grazing... IE lots of sheep in a very small area. Keep and eye for bloat and move them all off if you see signs. Also keep a bloateze type product handy.

 

Alfalfa is pretty tough, you can damage the crowns with grazing in wet and mud, or very cold temps. I have grazed fall stubble for 2 winters now and i am currently grazing a 1st cut stand with ewes and lambs.

 

Lana

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I'm just growing alfalfa for my sheep for winter.

 

Let me rephrase that, what nutrients does alfalfa need? What I'm finding on the web is high concentrations of Phosphorus and Potassium. I guess I should find out what nutrients is in cow/horse mature, they seem to be doing well in that.

 

My sheep graze all summer. Barbados have large bellies in the first place, is bloating obvious?

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I'm just growing alfalfa for my sheep for winter.

 

Let me rephrase that, what nutrients does alfalfa need? What I'm finding on the web is high concentrations of Phosphorus and Potassium. I guess I should find out what nutrients is in cow/horse mature, they seem to be doing well in that.

 

My sheep graze all summer. Barbados have large bellies in the first place, is bloating obvious?

 

Alfalfa in it's growing stage is very dangerouis to pasture sheep on. It is designed to be hay. Your sheep can bloat and die on alfalfa in 5 minutes if you don't watch them closely. It does not require nitrogen fertilizer as it gains it's nitrogen requirements from the atmosphere. It requires heavy phosphorous addition along with potash if the soil is lacking in it. Get a soil test and let the Ag people know what it is you want to grow and they'll let you know all about it. Cut your weeds instead of trying to pasture them off and give the alfalfa a chance to get growing and keep the sheep off it until it is established. They'll kill the young plants. You can safely pasture alfalfa after a killing frost in the fall has wilted the leaves and not until. Pasturing will reduce the longevity of the alfalfa and more frequent seedings will be required. Your choice. Bob

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Bloat is easy to see if you know what to look for. I would do some research and look at some pics of swollen rumen in sheep. There is also some good info about grazing out there.

 

Yes alfalfa can be risky, but it can be done if managed correctly.Even grazing after a killing frost is not totaly safe.

Alfalfa is grazed extensively overseas.

 

Lana

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I have pretty much given up on the heavy weeded area, it's about 5% alfalfa in there because the weeds choked most of it off.

 

My alfalfa is 34 days old since it spouted and 2-5 inches tall. I should be doing a first cut by now. So I'm doing something wrong.

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Hi Lana,

 

I know what you meant, but because the word has different meanings I would not say that alfalfa is grazed "extensively" overseas. It is grazed commonly and widely, but always (at least as far as I am aware) intensively.

 

Johnson,

 

The only way to determine what nutrients your alfalfa needs is to take a soil test. The single most important soil parameter for alfalfa is pH, which must be very close to 7 -- at least 6.8. Here in New England this requires heavy application of limestone to most ground. That would be my guess as to why yours is off to a slow start. But 34 days post germination would be awful early for a first cutting. I'd be thinking more like 60 to 70 days. Once the stand is established, you want to cut it about every 34 days during the growing season.

 

Alfalfa will produce its own nitrogen _if_ the seed was inoculated with the correct bacteria before planting, or if the bacteria were already present in the soil. The bacteria will only be present if the ground was previously in alfalfa, and as a rule ground that has recently grown alfalfa will not grow a new seeding. Alfalfa secretes a chemical that prevents alfalfa seed from germinating or seedlings from growing. And, despite the fact that it can produce its own N, alfalfa will benefit from nitrogen applications. Usually not enough to justify the cost of application, but it will benefit. The soil test will tell you which side of the tipping point you're on.

 

Remember that any nutrients you apply to feed the alfalfa will also feed the weeds, so you want to make sure that you target the feeding as closely as possible -- which goes back to the soil test.

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As an aside, Johnson, you still haven't shared your location with us but I am getting the impression that you are in a place where irrigation is the norm. I have no experience with alfalfa under irrigation; we time our spring and fall seedings to coincide with cool, damp weather that we usually see in May and early June and then again in late August and September.

 

If you live in an area where farmers are growing alfalfa, spend some time learning from them. They will know more about how to grow alfalfa in your area than anyone who farms from behind a desk. The yield figures you've gotten (9 tons per acre) sound suspiciously high to me. The dairy farm where I work grows alfalfa on some of the best farmland in the world, and we take four cuttings a year. On a good year we'll crowd 5 tons per acre of dry matter, which would be about 5.8 tons per acre of hay. To increase that by 50 percent would seem a little bit ambitious, even if your climate allows for six cuttings per year.

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Yesterday I visited one of the farmers in my area, which grows feed for his dairy cattle. He said that he only adds steer manure to the soil to grow alfalfa, but adds additional N for corn. He plants alfalfa in the fall and just planted corn.

 

He said the plastic drum was for oil to lube the well pump instead of nutrient injector like I assumed. This one baffles me because chemicals come in plastic drums and oil comes in steel drums as far as I know. (I have an industrial machine background)

 

I did test the soil with a hardware store tester and I have 7.2 PH.

 

I live in the arid desert with a short winter (I heat the house for 3 months a year).

 

I explained the 9 ton yield in an earlier post.

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I'd be interested in seeing the link to the page where you got the info on 9 tons to the acre, because I am still having a hard time believing that you could really expect 9 tons to the acre of hay. Of green biomass, yes -- particularly if they're including the root systems in that estimate.

 

I planted a hay field with a blend that includes some alfalfa on May 12, and just walked it last evening. In some of the areas where the seeding took really well, the alfalfa is about a foot tall. In others it's less than four inches. I have a really nice crop of lamb's quarters that will need to be mowed or grazed pretty soon before it goes to seed.

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You said you have to use limestone to adjust for a favorably PH. Alfalfa can have a root system going 15 feed deep. It doesn't seem possible to change the PH that deep using limestone with consistency. This could be one reason why your getting inconsistent results in the same field. Here the PH is already around 7.

 

You also mention that you don't irrigate, alfalfa needs allot of water to produce higher yields.

Also how consistent is your rainfall and what PH is it? More consistent the watering is, the higher the yield. If your rainfall is on the acid side like your soil, it's counteracting the soil PH balance.

 

With a Fall planting one has plants ready to go for the growing season and maximizes producing time. Here the growing season is long and it looks from the report below that we get up to six cuttings per season.

 

What this report is showing is different amounts of water used to produce different yields. Also note that they plant in Fall. It also shows a high of 11 ton/acres.

 

http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/variety_trials/var06.pdf

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While the alfalfa does have a very deep tap root (it can actually go to 30 feet) it takes a couple of years to establish that tap root. And the majority of the feeding roots are still in the top few inches of soil so pH is very important. The irrigation water that your boys put on the land isn't going down 15 feet either.

 

Regarding the consistency and acidity of our rainfall, it has certainly been consistent here for the last month. Every. Freakin. Day. It does tend to be acidic, thanks to coal fired power plants in the midwest, but our soils had a native pH in the low to mid sixes even before acid rain. The only crops that are irrigated in New England on a commercial scale are things like strawberries, lettuces, etc. Forages are not irrigated because the cost of installing irrigation equipment isn't justified by whatever improvement we might see in yield through irrigation. Plus we don't have federally-subsidized irrigation water to draw from. We either have to pump it from the ground or, if we're fortunate enough to have frontage on a river, draw it up from there. Of course, we can do that legally. No squabbles over water rights here. We have too much of the damn stuff to worry about it.

 

All kidding aside, we have pretty reliable rainfall in the spring and early summer and late summer and fall. There's usually about a six-week dry spell from late June into early August -- any by dry spell we're talking it only rains one or two afternoons a week. We usually get 1/4 to 1/2 inch of rain per week during the dry spell. That's why such a high percentage of our dairy farms rely on silage for their alfalfa and haycrop harvests -- you can get it into the silo the second day, as opposed to needing three or four days in a row of good weather for dry hay.

 

Thanks for the link -- I'll have a look later on. Gotta go -- the sun is making a brief appearanc!

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How can you make a blanket statement that water would not go down 15 feet here? You don't know the quantity of water that is used, soil type, etc. Also water flows down. A plant draws from the entire root system, not just the first few inches, I don't see how you would support your statement. The plant grows up to a 30 foot tap root for search of nutrients and water, not to hold it's 2-3 foot high crown from falling over like a tree would. Your acid type soil is effecting the plants from the rest of the root ball system. Without the proper soil/water PH, the plant can't absorb the optimum nutrients from the entire root ball that it needs from the soil.

 

Here is an interesting URL on the root system, looks like the majority of the roots go down several feet within the first year. http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/0...010139ch13.html

 

We use all well water here, with the exception of infrequent rain.

 

Another reason we have a higher yield is there is 95% sunshine as compared from what your indicating of "the sun is making a brief appearance" comment.

 

So you and I have totally different growing conditions, so you can see how a 9 ton/acre is achieved.

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