Alfalfa for beginners


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I grew up in dairy country and we had alfalfa. It's all gone now, but one thing I remember about it is that if it doesn't get cut periodically, it will turn to wire and lodge. Fast forward to today, and there are guys out there in our world that swear by it. So I have questions.

How do you manage it so it doesn't get stemmy? Can it hold it's own in a mix? When is the best time to plant and what kind of nurse crop? Is there a better variety for grazing and cold regions?

For the life of me, I can't remember if we planted it later in the spring, or if it went in with the oats as soon as we could get a tractor across the field.
I spread it in the pasture where we feed cattle. I just let them stomp it in, anything that gets established is grazed (cut) by the cattle. This year I added it to my fall mix. I'll let you know how it goes.
In this part of the world ,typical August planting after wheat. Ground worked several times to have a smooth seed bed broadcast and cultipac. We do field border strips with mixtures,red clover and vernal alfalfa. Alfalfa tends to get wolfed out but it's easy enough to frost seed some in the spring to keep it viable. The nice part is vernal does better in the heat after the red fades. I mow 12-16" in mid summer. In the mixes alfalfa is slower to flower
I brush hog mine about 8 inches tall but don't let it get over a foot tall.I spray for grass and broadcast clover if I get a spot that drowns out or dies.Most of the time alfalfa can't be overseeded as it kills itself,You may see new sprouts from normal spreading
The only real good way to keep it from getting stemmy is to keep cutting it. IIRC the optimum time for hay production is every 21-30 days depending on if you want quality or quantity. There are some grazing alfalfas but I don't know any of them, just that they exist.
The rule of thumb here is to seed alfalfa in months that start with "A", but I prefer August for our hayfields, because usually the frost will kill any weeds before they get a chance to set seed. But weve done April with success as well and will get usually 2 cuttings in the first year. Oats are a pretty popular nurse crop, Ive wondered about a mix of oats and something like wheat or triticale, to help get a little more tons out of the first cutting the next spring.

My advice comes from hay production, so take that for what its worth lol
Keep plot at size that deer will keep it mowed for you. Have ph near 7 and nutrients at VH soil readings. Preferably plant after couple years of rotational plantings improving souls.
Mix w clover and chicory. I fall planted w WR. Ssometimes I mow a foot high, never have baled, no problems. Fert each fall w 0-20-20 and Boron/Borax. Alfalfa is about a third of mix. Plot is in its 7-8th year.
And yes frostseed each spring. It allows that as its not a monoculture of alfalfa.
Keep exclusion cage as you will swear there is no alfalfa from the heavy browse. It and chicory great insurance in drought. I’d post some pics but who the heck could find those at 2 am?? Good luck.

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Not sure it can be seen but this is why need of exclusion cage for alfalfa or you will deem it a complete failure. After absolutely no rain for 2 1/2 months everything was brown, dead and browsed to the dirt. But if u look close there is 1-2 ft of alfalfa plants in cage yet background is funk. Luckily some rain last couple wks and new growth of clover alfalfa and chicory beginning to sprout. I’ll overseed this w WR next couple weeks.

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I will be following this. I have some alfalfa in 2 plots on sandy ground in northern lower peninsula Michigan. Both have been overseeded inside of the first year. Supposedly that is safe because alfalfa exhibits autotoxicity after 1 year, which I do not understand. Alfalfa has the ideal C:N ratio for soil microbes. Alfalfa is supposed to be an excellent winter stockpiled forage, especially here. After this years weather, warming, followed by June frost, then drought, now already snow cover, I struggle for tonnage for winter carryover.
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