Cutting First-Crop Alfalfa Offers Risks, Lots of Rewards

US - Harvesting alfalfa may be the one activity with the most influence on dairy herd profitability.
calendar icon 8 April 2014
clock icon 1 minute read

Forage growers need to get a lot of things right as they cut and store first-crop hay.

Dairy specialists and livestock information managers from DuPont Pioneer say poor-quality ensiled forages may mean production goals are not achievable and can result in significant financial consequences.

First crop may yield the largest volume and most highly digestible haylage of the season. However, forage quality may decline quickly as the alfalfa nears the bud stage.

As a result, timing when to cut alfalfa is crucial to maximizing the production of highly digestible forage.

After cutting, growers need to monitor moisture and wilt time to achieve the right ensiling moisture and to minimize respiration loss in the field.

Growers can also maximize the amount of effective fiber in the feed by monitoring the theoretical length of cut (TLC) during chopping. TLC is determined by the shear bar setting on the forage harvester, and it also greatly influences how well the crop packs in the silo. As hay dries in the field, growers should shorten the shear bar setting on the forage harvester to minimize air entrapment in the silo for better packing.

Finally, growers should apply premium alfalfa-specific inoculants, backed by solid research, at harvest to reduce dry matter losses, avoid protein degradation and preserve silage quality.

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