First Cutting - Underway

Only in Extension can you go from helping calibrate sprayers at a spray day in the morning to looking at potatoes on a certified organic farm in the afternoon. Every day is different, and I get to work with great people who come from different backgrounds and have different management philosophies. That is one of the many reasons I enjoy my job as an Extension Agent. It is the next best thing to farming and ranching.

The spring time is probably my busiest time of the year, but it is also the most enjoyable time of the year. I am still finishing up first cutting hay inspections for the Montana Noxious Weed Seed Free Forage Certification Program. Almost every producer you talk to has a little different opinion on when to cut their alfalfa or alfalfa/grass hay, so I thought it would be good to review what the research says.

Dale Smith, University of Wisconsin

Cutting Stage

Plant Height (inches)

Forage Yield (lbs/acre)

Crude Protein

Fiber %

Vegetative

7

884

32

15

Pre-bud

15

1866

26

21

Bud

24

3078

23

28

1/10 Bloom

32

4632

18

34

Full Bloom

37

4866

16

35

Green Pod

40

5570

14

38

Long, Ball, TenEyck. Sandyland Experiment Field, St. John, Kansas.

Cutting Stage

Forage Yield (6-year total) (Tons/Acre)

Crude Protein (6-year total) (lbs/acre)

1/10 Bloom

61.6

22833

Bud

54.9

21025

Bud/Full-bloom

59.7

21504

Stivers, J., B.R. Moss & L. Welty, 1983. New trends in Forage Analysis, MSU Research Report 202 61-70

Stage

% Leaves

% Protein

% ADF

% NDF

RFV

Bud

>40

>18

<30

<40

>140

Early Bloom

30-40

16-18

30-35

40-45

124-140

Mid-bloom

20-30

13-16

35-40

45-50

100

Full-bloom

<20

<12

>40

>50

<100

Stage

% Digestibility

Pre-bud

66.8

Bud

65

Early bloom

63.1

Mid-bloom

61.3

Full-bloom

59.4

Late-bloom

57.5

Mature

55.8

More than 90% of the nutritional value of alfalfa is in the leaves. Harvesting of the plant in the pre-bud or bud stage is when there will be the most leaves that will give you the highest crude protein and digestibility, but repeat harvest at this plant stage eventually reduces plant viability, thus yield. To maximize the nutritional value of the forage and maintain plant viability, alfalfa should be cut at the early bloom stage or at 1/10 bloom. As the plant matures past this stage, the nutritional value of the forage declines significantly. You may get a little higher yield if you wait until the full bloom stage, but it won’t have the quality. The premium you will receive for quality will definitely make up for the difference in yield between early bloom and full bloom. If you have high quality hay, it gives the producer the flexibility to mix with a lower quality feed in those years when hay is scarce. I usually tell producers that as soon as you start seeing blooms in the field, start planning to cut because by the time you actually get in the field it will then be at the 1/10 bloom stage. Have a great haying season!

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