CONCEPTIONS Dairy route newsletter June-July 2020
First cutting hay is well in progress as we “speak”: you may already be done when you read this. Weather change has made it hard to live up to Grandpa’s rule “first cutting needs to be done by Memorial Day” (ie, the end of May). Grandpa’s reason for this was his preference for alfalfa + orchardgrass mixed hay. The push for clear alfalfa seedings changed our rules to “once 10% of alfalfa plants show buds, it”s time to cut”, a time more affected by spring temperatures.
Now that those seeking optimum balance between nutritional quality, tonnage and seeding life have returned to mixed hay/ haylage plantings (18# alfalfa, 2# red clover, 10# grass) we get that same question again. This seems complicated by the seeming differences between varieties of alfalfa as to how intensely you can manage cuttings (there are 28 day varieties and 35 day also).
The overriding rule, however, is to cut according to the stage of the grass. The perennial type of grasses are all “cold season” (ie, grow best spring and fall, go dormant in summer heat) so as to maintain living root systems in the winter. Once grasses have headed out (“gone to seed”) any regrowth in that season is inhibited. You lose the window to optimize their feed value and you lose tonnage over the full harvest season.
Will it hurt alfalfa to be cut pre-bud? As this primarily occurs in first cutting, NO – you still will have enough moisture in the late spring soil (and cooler evenings) for it to recover. In the heat of the summer, with the grass going dormant, you see more alfalfa and less grass and cutting by the alfalfa maturity is just fine. Entering the fall, where you have now set yourself up for one more cutting (than you would have had delaying for the alfalfa in the spring), you will again see the grass came back and the thatch you leave at the end of the season provides the same cover benefits to next year as you get when planting cover crops after fall harvesting row crops.
Interseeding into thinner or winter kill spots in alfalfa stands
There are many options. Keep in mind, if you only want a crop this year, sudangrass (BMR-6) or sorghum-sudan (BMR-6) hybrid cross offer the best feed value, except seed supply is short. A second option is Hybrid Millet (Prime 360) and seed supply is in better shape this season.