Roundup Ready technology may help put alfalfa in more graziers’ paddocks, says Garry Lacefield, University of Kentucky forage specialist.
“A lot of people now are putting in alfalfa for the sole purpose of grazing. If they can get baleage off of it, and if they can get a hay crop, that’s a bonus,” he says.
Roundup Ready technology reduces weed competition and helps get alfalfa well established, he adds. Grass can be no-till-drilled in during the next seeding period.
That’s what Clayton Geralds and his son, Christopher, Munfordville, KY, plan to do with a seeding of Roundup Ready alfalfa put in this past spring. Once it’s fully established, they plan to graze Christopher’s 65-cow beef herd on it.
“We’ll probably drill some orchardgrass into it relatively soon,” the elder Geralds says.
“The advantage of alfalfa as a pasture is that it grows in the hot summertime when the cool-season grasses don’t, and it yields more than anything else you can grow. Now the advantage of Roundup Ready alfalfa as a pasture is that you can keep it cleaner and get better-quality feed. And I think it will keep longer because of the lack of competition,” he adds.
He seeded the transgenic crop for hay when it was first deregulated in 2005 and again this spring. Once it is established and weed-free, he’ll drill orchardgrass into the alfalfa and easily market the in-demand mix.
“After a couple of years of alfalfa-orchardgrass mix, we’ll spray it with Roundup again and clean it back up and then drill more orchardgrass back into it. We will spray it two or three or four times during its life even after we mix orchardgrass in with it – just to keep it clean.”
Increased yield and higher-quality alfalfa are driving forces for beef and dairy producers seeding it, says Lacefield.
A Virginia study, done many years ago, found that good-producing cows grazing alfalfa during a 24-week trial gave more than 15,000 lbs of 4% milk. The Kentucky state record of beef produced was 1,350 lbs on an acre of alfalfa without irrigation or grain supplement, he adds.
Increasing pasture quality is vital because massive droughts in the southeastern U.S. have lowered it and productivity, he says.
“Now we’ve got primarily fescues, bluegrass and orchardgrass – not very productive with shallow roots and shallow soils. But with alfalfa, it’s not going to make maximum growth, but that deep root system permits it to make a whole lot better growth than any other perennial forage I’ve ever worked with in the summer.”
A grazing crop also returns 85% of consumed nutrients back to pasture. Yet Lacefield accents how important it is to monitor fertility with soil tests.
“We don’t want to be fooled by thinking, ‘Well, I’m going to be recycling all of these nutrients.’ There is still a big question on distribution (of manure).” Rotational grazing helps with that, he suggests.
What about profit? “We do have the potential of grazing Roundup Ready alfalfa to make a profit,” Lacefield says. Additional Virginia research studied alfalfa-orchardgrass rotationally grazed in a four-paddock rotation.
“They were able to increase their carrying capacity about 43% and increase overall milk production.”
Yet another grazing study compared alfalfa to other crops, including grass hay, soybeans, corn and silage. It wanted to find out which crop brought the highest profit via milk production. “That wasn’t when corn was $7/bu, but they found that alfalfa as a grazing crop brought the highest profit potential per acre.”
Lacefield’s constantly asked about bloat, which can kill animals that feed on lush, dewy legumes.
“Bloat can be managed,” he answers. “When we put on demonstrations, we feed Poloxalene, a bloat compound. If you get that compound into them, you won’t have any problems.” Yet producers usually manage around using the compound, he adds, to save input costs.
Ways to avoid bloat? Don’t turn hungry animals onto lush pasture when it’s wet with dew. Graze alfalfa pasture in the afternoons. Growing grass with alfalfa also reduces risk.
Having to fence fields is another detriment in the eyes of many producers, the forage specialist says. New fencing and watering options are affordable and make rotational grazing more efficient.
“You can polywire up a 10-acre field in 20 minutes or less.”
Finally, Lacefield is asked to justify using alfalfa when graziers typically reach only 30% pasture utilization. He estimates that 68% pasture utilization is very achievable with adequate grazing management.
“Using good varieties, adequate fertility, timely pest control and attention to details can lead to an efficient, profitable alfalfa program,” he concludes.