Dryland alfalfa has stopped growing in many fields; plants are 6-12” tall and getting more and more purple by the day, says University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist Bruce Anderson.
The question he’s being asked: “With little relief in sight, what should we do – hay it, shred it, graze it or just leave it?”
As alfalfa becomes nearly dormant, it slowly loses feed value and tonnage due to continued maturation as well as leaf loss from insect feeding, diseases and old age. Growers considering harvesting the hay will probably need at least half a ton per acre to justify fuel, labor and other harvesting costs.
“Grazing might be relatively cheap in terms of out-of-pocket costs if you already have portable electric fence and don’t need to spend much money to transport cattle or water. Plus dry, bloomed-out alfalfa has a pretty low risk for bloat – not foolproof, but commonsense animal husbandry should enable you to graze safely,” he says.
Those who can’t graze or justify cutting hay should just leave it alone, the forage specialist advises. “Shredding or haying might stimulate your alfalfa to try and regrow. If it stays dry, those new shoots could die off. Once your alfalfa does receive enough rain for regrowth, it might regrow a little faster if it’s cut. But it also will regrow following sufficient rain without cutting. In most cases, it’s not worth the cost and time involved to shred, clip or harvest low-yielding hay.”