Some of the best pasture of the year still may be available this fall – from your alfalfa fields, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist.
Grazing avoids the problem of slow curing of hay that often occurs during fall and provides flexibility that often is useful for beef producers this time of year, says Anderson. Fall alfalfa makes an outstanding weaning pasture for spring calves; yearlings continue to gain weight rapidly on it, even after summer grass starts to die off; and cows gain excellent condition before winter.
Fall grazing of alfalfa is not without problems, though. Bloat is always a concern, but after the crop has been frosted and starts to dry down, it has less tendency to cause bloat than summer alfalfa.
“To protect your livestock from bloat, fill them with hay before turning them onto alfalfa,” Anderson advises. “Also, maintain access to dry hay or cornstalks while grazing alfalfa to help reduce bloat. Or you can swath your alfalfa ahead of grazing and let animals graze dry hay in the swaths. Of course, bloat protectants like poloxalene can be fed as blocks or mixed with grain. This can be an expensive supplement, but it works well when animals eat a uniform amount each day.”
Also, he says to be careful not to damage your alfalfa stand. Only graze when fields are dry and firm. Reserve a small sacrifice area for grazing and feeding when soils are wet to avoid damaging the entire field.
“If you aren't already doing so, consider alfalfa for late fall pasture,” says Anderson. “Its advantages greatly exceed any disadvantages.”