Planting alfalfa – in dry or good-growing weather – can boost production on any pasture-based livestock operation, especially during summer slump, says Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist.
“Yields in 2012 were an eye-opener for those who had alfalfa in their forage mix. Alfalfa kept growing long after other crops had dried up and died. The deep-rooted legume was noticeably greener.”
Alfalfa is a picky plant, Kallenbach admits. “It likes deep, rich, well-drained soils. Alfalfa won’t tolerate wet feet.” But the nitrogen-fixing legume responds well to good management, especially when lime, phosphorous and potash levels are kept up to soil-test recommendations. “Alfalfa pays well for extra attention. With a little care, it grows more tonnage per acre.”
Almost every farm big enough to maintain a livestock herd has some land that will grow alfalfa, he says. A 1,000-acre farm with 300 cows will have 80 or 100 acres suited for alfalfa.
While Kallenbach favors alfalfa, farmers can extend grazing into the summer slump using other legumes, including red and white clovers and lespedeza, seeded into grass pastures.
Clover’s big advantage is ease of establishment. In February, it can be frost-seeded into grass pastures that have been grazed down short. Taller grasses offer too much competition.
Pastures should hold a diversity of forages beyond toxic tall fescue, Missouri’s dominant pasture forage, Kallenbach says. Planting annual warm-season grasses such as sorghum-sudan and pearl millet while there is moisture in the soil, is another option. “If you wait until going into a drought, it’s too late to plant supplemental forages,” Kallenbach says.
All forages benefit from managed grazing. With rotational grazing, dividing large pastures into grazing paddocks, less forage is lost to trampling. The rest periods in management-intensive grazing boost production of forage per acre.