Alfalfa is one of the most versatile and nutritious hay crops for livestock. It is also one of the cheapest and easiest to grow.
It prefers well-draining soil with a neutral pH (about 6.6). A pH below 6.5 may prevent the establishment and can cause alfalfa to become less palatable to animals.
Alfalfa hay is an excellent source of protein, calcium, and other minerals for livestock. The plant is a perennial that produces dense, high-quality hay. It also helps reduce soil erosion and can be used as a cover crop.
Irrigating alfalfa is essential to maximize hay yield and quality. The water supply, available irrigation capacity, and soil moisture-holding capacity are all important factors in deciding when to irrigate.
In most cases, a soil-based approach is best for alfalfa management. This approach uses the information gathered through regular monitoring of soil moisture levels to determine when to irrigate and then when to apply the desired amount of water to meet the hay crop’s water needs.
Soil moisture monitoring can help irrigators ensure that the right amount of water is applied to the crop, regardless of whether the available supply is sufficient or not. It is especially useful in situations where irrigation water is scarce and when there are other concerns, such as disease and weed growth.
The optimum time to irrigate alfalfa is during the first or second cutting when the plant is most efficient in its use of water. However, according to Matt Yost of Utah State University Extension, growers can irrigate sooner to boost yield during a wet year.
Another benefit of irrigating during the first or second cutting is that it can stimulate re-growth in the field and increase forage production the next time it is cut. It can also provide a good time to pad the soil profile since little water will be lost from the ground due to evaporation during this time of the season.
During the growing season, alfalfa plants require about four to eight feet of water per plant, depending on environmental conditions. The deep roots in the stem and leaves help the crop absorb water from rainfall and soak up excess soil moisture.
Once the crop is harvested, its roots will begin to shrivel and die. This is a normal process that will take time. Irrigation at this time can be beneficial because it will provide additional nutrients for the plant, which is important during re-growth.
Alfalfa Hay is a great source of natural nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus for your garden. This organic fertilizer is also an excellent soil builder that improves overall soil health and nutrition. You can buy it in either a loose meal or pelletized form.
During the growing season, you can apply alfalfa meals to your entire garden or just a few select plants to provide them with the nutrients they need for optimal growth. Just make sure to use this organic fertilizer properly and avoid overdosing.
The key is to be sure that you are providing the right amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for the number of plants that you have in your garden. Too much fertilizer can cause overgrowth or problems like weeds or root rot. Too little can lead to yellowing leaves and stunted growth.
To get the most out of your fertilizer, start using the correct amount and then working it into the soil. This will ensure that you give your alfalfa the exact amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium it needs.
This will help to keep the crop healthy and happy. It will also increase the yield and quality of your growing hay.
If you are growing more than one type of plant, you can divide the fertilizer into different containers so that you can provide each plant with its own dosage. This can be a helpful way to save money on fertilizer costs and help keep you on track with your fertilizer schedule.
You can also create a tea from your alfalfa meal by mixing it with water to make a fertilizer for your plants. Be sure that your water isn’t chlorinated because this can inhibit the microbial activity in the fertilizer.
This is a quick and easy way to add a few cups of alfalfa meal to your water each week for a good organic fertilizer that will provide your plants with the nutrients they need. Be sure to let the mixture sit for a few days to allow it to ferment and develop beneficial bacteria for your plants.
Insects in alfalfa hay can harm the growth and quality of the plants, leading to reduced yields and loss of regrowth for the next cutting. This can be caused by feeding injury from one or more of a variety of insect species, which range in life cycles and habits.
The most common pests of alfalfa are aphids, blister beetles, and weevils. Weevils, in particular, can cause severe damage to alfalfa, reducing yields and challenging regrowth for the next cutting.
Aphids are soft-bodied, slow-moving insects that eat the leaves and stem of alfalfa, resulting in the yellowing and wilting of the plants. Infested plants may also develop honeydew, which can lead to mold and mildew problems.
If you are concerned about the number of aphids in your fields, consider taking samples of the alfalfa with a bucket of water. The sample should include 30 stems from each acre. Beat the stems vigorously against the side of the bucket for 20 to 30 seconds to dislodge all of the insects, including aphids and alfalfa weevil larvae.
Aphids can be difficult to control, as they are prolific insects. They can produce large numbers of eggs and larvae and can be resistant to insecticides. It is important to apply a good insecticide with a high label use rate and at least 2 gallons per acre by air or 10 gallons per acre by ground, especially when the pest population is high.
Weevils are challenging for many producers because their larvae can damage the plant’s roots and reduce yields. However, they can be controlled with a flexible option like Steward EC insecticide, which offers extended residual control.
Stubble treatment is another effective method to control alfalfa weevil populations. This strategy may be especially beneficial in areas where cloudy weather and mild temperatures allow weevils to survive in stubble under windrows and bales.
Weevils can be prevented from causing destruction through good management practices such as green-chopping alfalfa. Insecticide applications between cuttings are an excellent way to control pests that can limit regrowth. For example, a 1 pint of Lorsban is highly effective on most insect pests and will help preserve yield during the first cutting and protect regrowth for the second cutting.
Alfalfa hay is a nutritious and highly palatable forage that is rich in protein, vitamins A, E, D, and K, and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. It can also be a good source of energy for animals, such as horses.
It is important to take care of alfalfa in order to maintain its quality and yield. The most effective way to do this is to cut it at the right time of year.
During the spring, when there is little environmental stress and the plants are in the bud to the early-bloom stage of development, alfalfa can tolerate cutting. Some producers are trying to cut the crop when it is less mature than recommended, but this can be very stressful on the stand because the energy reserves in the taproots and crowns will not be stored in sufficient quantity to sustain regrowth through the winter.
This can result in a lower nutritive value of the forage and reduced total yield. To maximize the nutritive quality of the forage and increase total yield, it is best to harvest alfalfa in the first cutting in the spring.
A well-managed spring harvest can lead to greater stand persistence and higher total yields. However, it is important to note that there may be 4 to 5 points of relative feed value loss (RFV) per day from the first cutting through the harvest period.
To minimize the loss of nutritive quality, managing the first cutting in the spring more closely than other seasonal cuttings is essential. This is because alfalfa and mixed legume/grass stand lose nutritive quality more quickly in the first spring growth cycle than during summer growth cycles.
In addition, it is essential to maintain the optimum height of the alfalfa plant during the growing season. This can help prevent weed infestations and ensure that the hay has the highest possible protein content, which is important to livestock.
To maximize the quality of the hay, it is vital to cut it in the morning or early afternoon. This will allow the hay to dry faster while also providing a longer window of opportunity for moisture-depleted stems and leaves to be exposed to air and sunlight, allowing them to become more soluble. This will help to preserve sugars in the hay, which are a major contributor to hay quality.