Alfalfa Project


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Check back if you want to follow the makings of an alfalfa food plot. While this is not strictly a food plot, we will be harvesting the alfalfa which will go along with the maintenance aspect also. The deer have free access to the area and every bite they take is taking away money out of the pocket. So best to manage for both and accept there are good and bad no matter what one decides.

After missing the window for getting the alfalfa planted last fall, we had to make a decision about spring planting. While not optimum it is still an option. Last fall we were able to get lime spread on some of this area. It was a maintenance application so it was not necessary to incorporate last fall. Last fall the field was planted in forage oats in hopes the oats would winter kill.

The forage oats did not winter kill and thanks to rains it has been later than optimum getting things planted.

April 18, 2015 was able to get into the field with the chisel plow and began the process.


While it would not have been necessary for tillage in a food plot setting since this area is going to be cut and baled we had to address some uneven terrain. Tillage allowed us to address some visible waves in the field for consistent cutting heights and smooth field surface.

The oats were mostly taken care of with the chisel plow and the area was left fallow for a time due to wet conditions. The depth the field was worked was approximately 5 inches. Here is a photo showing the depth the chisel was running. Keep in mind the tires will squat a bit as the points are pulled into the ground with forward momentum. But the tires will keep the chisel at a consistent depth.


On May 6th, I spread fertilizer starting early in the morning. Since this is going to be harvested I choose to apply 200 pounds of potash along with 100 pounds of DAP per acre. After the fertilizer was spread the area was tilled with the tiller and the cultipacker hooked directly to the tiller. Tillage depth was about 3 inches and what was left behind was a smooth surface.



Daylight turned to dark but the task was finished at approximately 1 AM. Trying to get everything ready to plant ahead of the pending rain in forecast is motivation. The field where this photo was taken was field cultivated the day before this photo so the soil appears loose and fluffy.


Early the next day found me running to pick up some oats and alfalfa at the coop. Actually choose RR alfalfa due to knowing there will be issues with weeds thanks to the spring planting. If we planted in the fall would have used a conventional variety of alfalfa. Knowing issues and planning for them will save some issues with headache during the early summer. One thing to mention if planting RR alfalfa they do recommend spraying between 3rd trifoliate and 4th trifoliate regardless of weeds because a small portion of the alfalfa will not have the resistant characteristic.

Seeds in the ground and within an hour the rain started coming down. Two days of slow rain was good for the newly placed seeds. planting rates were alfalfa 20 pounds per acre and oats were about 18 pounds per acre knowing it will be taken out as soon as sprayed.

May 16th it was still wet but the alfalfa and oats had already sprouted.


May 28th was able to get out and check the fields (there are actually 3 different fields newly planted to alfalfa for a total acreage of about 10 acres).

Growth is looking pretty well at this point.


and a close up


We are at the trifoliate stage now. As can be seen in the next photo there are tree "clusters" of leaves not counting the cotyledons which are still visible as the first leaves above the ground.


Plant stage identification can be very important when applying herbicides no matter what type of plant you are spraying.

As the alfalfa plants continue to grow, the lower stem will continue getting thicker and harder and the new growth will remain very palatable. So even when keeping alfalfa as a food plot, mowing is necessary to keep the growth in palatable stage. If allowed to just grow one would risk the plant maturing early in the year and setting seed pods. Cutting is timed by the flowering stages of the plants.
Finally got in to plant another two acres of Alfalfa today. This area was tilled and following the last 2 inch rain we just have not had very good drying weather. Was wet enough to stick to the packing wheels a bit but planted anyhow.



The best part about drilling seeds is the ability to get pretty close to perfect on the seeding rate. After finishing there was not much seed left. Actually had to stop several times while doing headlands to keep seed flowing.


After getting back to shop and vacuuming out the remaining seed I decided to weigh the left over. I got 5 extra pounds going into the process and ended up with just over 2 pounds left in the drill. Not too bad considering the odd shape with point rows on both sides.
Update 6/12/15

The rain is has been keeping the ground too wet to spray and got to the point had to spray today as looks like rain all next week.

Most of the alfalfa is doing well but there are a couple spots where the grass is trying to take over.


Should have been sprayed when the last post was made but things don't always go as planned. You can see some alfalfa mixed in with the grass and oats.

I hope you can tell from this next picture how coverage was. If you look close you can see some of the area still "wet" on this leaf and that the leaf is mostly covered where the light is hitting it just right. This is the coverage one looks for besides the light raindrop on the windshield look. The droplets tend to melt together to look like a solid sheet when in fact they were applied with lots of tiny drops per square inch. While the "wetness" is actually more of an oily sheen.


Sprayed with 18 gal of water and 1.5 qt 41% Gly per acre with soluble AMS added of approximately 10 pounds per 100 Gal.

Before anything is brought up about my rate here is why I did 1.5 qt per acre. First I know the coverage applied by my sprayer and most of the target weeds are grass and oats. There are a few broadleaf weeds but they are mostly under 8 inches in height. Considering this, while I an confident a qt per acre would most likely be sufficient, there was a chance of rain at 8 PM so wanted to make certain there was enough herbicide to get the job done.

Finished spraying around 5PM and got a shower around 6:45 PM so check back for after pictures.

It was just a bad day, First I left the GPS unit swath set for the drill so had to eyeball the application, and while driving back to shed caught a boom in a vine and lets just say I have to do some more work before I can finish spaying the other two areas of Alfalfa. Sorry not gonna post a picture of that!
Update 7/26/15

The rain has been relentless this year and crops are suffering. Finally quit raining long enough that I could work on the creek crossing which was taken out and made impassable even by an ATV.



After several hours of work with the tractor it is at least passable as long as rains don't sweep it away again.


Finally able to get a look at the alfalfa noted in earlier post which was sprayed. Considering the amount of rain and continuous wet conditions it is doing OK. It should be twice to three times as tall at this point but take what mother nature has dealt.

Starting to get some more grass started but it is also beginning to flower which is a sign it is ready to be cut and mowed.



Here is a close up of the alfalfa


And another picture showing some strips that did not get sprayed. You can see in the foreground there is also some marestail starting. Hope to get it cut shortly as if I have to spray another dose of Gly will have to wait an additional time before harvesting for feed.


Just one spot where the alfalfa will need replanted due to wet spot. During a normal year this area would not be a problem but the ground is super saturated and this wet area just overtook the alfalfa growing there. If you look closely you can see tire tracks when the field was sprayed. Knew it was going to be a risk when sprayed due to the wet conditions but glad I took the risk when I did. At this point there is still a good chance for recovery in the tracked areas.


And here is a picture showing showing the very beginning of the flowering of alfalfa.


The other 5 acres that were planted the very same day did not get sprayed and since then has been too wet even to take the ATV out. Didn't see very much alfalfa left as the grasses have overtaken it. Have make arrangements to have the grasses cut and baled as soon as we have another 4 days of dry weather. See if the Alfalfa is able to rebound as that was a lot of money to be out because of constant rainfall.
And to show the difference just one weed control method can make here is a picture showing a representation of the unsprayed fields. All other activities have been the same except for one application of 1 gt per acre of Gly plus AMS between the two fields.

This is RR Alfalfa and this year would have been really bad if I went with a conventional Alfalfa and had to make multiple applications for grasses and broadleaf.

Had to spray the Alfalfa again as there are several large patches of foxtail. Wish other stuff grew as quickly as foxtail! Sprayed 2 days ago with 1 Qt per acre GLY + 10 pounds AMS per 100 gallon. Weather man was wrong and as I was folding up the sprayer it began sprinkling. Over the next half hour it rained enough to make the blacktop and grass wet but today, the foxtail is looking kind of sickly.

On another note the area I showed the picture of before that appeared to have drowned out the Alfalfa is coming back strong! The wheel tracks in the alfalfa are mostly gone and alfalfa has stood back up. Was worried the additional grasses would have snuffed out the alfalfa in the old wheel tracks.

Of course in the other 2 acre patch I had photos of, planted a short time later, the alfalfa is gone. Just shows the difference between planting into fertile soil and so-so soil. The smaller 2 acre patch just could not overcome the combined stress of excessive water plus less than ideal nutrition. Sometimes success and failure are dependent on luck and nothing else. Record rainfall totals into August was just too much of a good thing.
Well got the grassy portions mowed off, and baled, to remove everything and see if any alfalfa will by chance start growing. It is pretty barren right now!


And a closer look shows there is zero visible alfalfa at this point.


On a better note, also just mowed the other field Looks like everything is going good there.

And a close look shows new green growth ready to spring forth as soon as this is raked and baled.

I should add that the rain that came in right after I sprayed the alfalfa hurt the effectiveness quite a bit. Only had about a 50% kill on existing grass type weeds.

The weather man was wrong about when it would rain that day and missed it by 2 hours.
Update 9/15/15

Stopped and took a look at the Alfalfa today to see if the grass needed addressed. Good news is the Alfalfa was growing well and I did not see any other weeds that needed addressed.


And here is a picture showing how much growth the Alfalfa has put on in a short time.


Here is a shot showing how well the Alfalfa is filling out. A quick canopy is still very important even with Alfalfa. The cutting schedule itself will aid in keeping weeds in check but noting beats a good canopy.

Lets start with the failed plots as I have recent, last year's soil tests for them. PH was 6.0 and 6.2. In the plot with 6.2 there was supposed to be 3 ton of lime added three years ago. Coop was supposed to apply an additional 2 ton per acre last fall but they did not hit either of these two so it was spread this spring just prior to planting. Nutrients were low on both these fields so applied 200 pounds potash and 200 pounds DAP per acre at planting and lightly incorporated. P and K were both low! The worst soil test was explained in my thread on 2014 Almanac/Contest. Was not tested for micro nutrients.

For the better field. Have not done a soil test! Applied 2 ton lime per acre last fall, as a maintenance application, and hit with 200 pounds potash plus 200 pounds DAP just because it was easier to apply fertilizer at same time so fertilized for worst areas. This area was taken out of regular grain production because deer ravaged corn and soys making harvest a loosing proposition. So far the last, and only cutting this year, removed about 1 ton of forage per acre so losses are approximately 51 pounds N, 12 pounds P, 49 pounds K, 5.4 pounds S, 4.5 pounds Mg, and 19 pounds of Calcium per acre. Production was low this year so expect these numbers to grow next year as far as nutrients needing replaced!

Here in the next month I will try to grab some more soil samples and include micro nutrients and would be happy to share the results. Immediate plan is to add another two ton per acre of lime to the two fields which were low in PH to begin with to be ready to replant next spring back to Alfalfa. Will also apply another 200 pounds of Potash per acre this fall as well to the field.

I will add this, The diamond field, I have mentioned this area several times over the past couple years, is where the Alfalfa is going well. After a couple years of planting this in LC mix rotation, there was a visible change in soil tilth. I remember planting into chunks of clay back in my younger days in this field. It has mellowed nicely over the last couple of years!
Went out to plant some cereals in a 2 acre spot where I thought the Alfalfa had killed out. Planned on mowing then no-till drilling the cereals. Low and behold there was alfalfa growing were 30 days ago there was none.

Well decided to pull out the batwing and resurrect it from a 5 year nap. Had bets going on if the Little Red, that is our TYM T603, would run it. Kicked in the PTO and it sprung to life! After some TLC hooked the batwing up and took off.

The area was overgrown with weeds but there was still a pretty good amount of alfalfa under the weeds.


And the batwing does a great job of mowing. It spreads evenly and has lift so weeds are not pushed down in tracks from tractor. Now to wait a few weeks and get another picture for you!



Sorry the windows are so filthy!
While this photo is an old picture I have, it shows the difference in mowers and their performance. This might be enough to impact how well mowing alfalfa may impact your results.

This picture shows the results of my 6 foot bush hog which had cut mature winter rye and med red clover. As you can see it appears the mower is leaving a heavy windrow. In actuality the mower scatters cuttings pretty well but there is no suction to pull vegetation up which has been flattened by tractor tires. You can probably see the difference in how much Med Red clover is growing in the tracks and between the tracks. Med red clover is not as prone to smothering as Alfalfa but this is the only picture that I have showing what our 6 foot bush hog leaves behind.


If you look at the pictures in my previous post with the larger mower you may be able to see there is no flattened tracks left, or they are minimized. This is due to the blades of the mower. The Woods batwing has blades with high lift, where the bush hog is a flat blade which creates no suction. Here is a picture again for comparison. Look for the tire tracks!


Not saying all small mowers are bad as I am sure some will have the high lift blades making them equal to this Woods mower. In most mowing situations the differences are not as important as the results are not nearly as important. Some applications where high lift mower blades may provide better results are mowing alfalfa, throw and mow applications, or no-till drilling behind a mower. All applications where too much vegetation can be problematic.
Here is a picture of the alfalfa that was mowed with the bushhog.


The alfalfa is coming in and as a food plot will likely make it. The plant density looks a little on the light side so may need to overseed in the spring with some Med Red Clover just to add to the canopy to aide in weed suppression. Determination will be made in spring as plants break dormancy.

Cut material was processed in a way that once dried, falls to the soil surface readily. Many weeds have died without the use of chemicals. Scouting and plant identification are necessary to determine if remaining weeds are warm season plants and will die with cold or cool season and will thrive with cooler temps. If cool season plants are identified and their population is substantial enough, spraying may be in order.

There are spots where barnyard grass was heavy which out-competed the alfalfa plants. These areas can be addressed next year with a replanting. Usually if replanted within one year of the initial plant date, new seedlings will remain mostly unaffected by the alfalfa's toxicity properties. Alfalfa will thin itself to provide plant population control. So with alfalfa, very high seeding rates are not always in the best financial interest to the grower. Rates of 18 to 20 pounds per acre are considered higher rates but allow for some plant death or loss.

Here is a picture of one spot where the alfalfa was out-competed.

I had a chance to scout one Alfalfa field yesterday. This is the field that was cut and baled.


Looking very good as far as plants are considered. The deer have been activity munching away at the tender growth. Lets just hope there is enough area planted here that the Alfalfa is not destroyed due to the deer.


Weed pressure is very, very minimal at this point. Few sprigs of barnyard grass that are still attempting to grow and a few broadleafs just starting to germinate and poke through the soil. With a week of warm enough temps to spray ahead, it does not look like spraying will accomplish anything at this time. If the new plants are cool season plants, just cant id them at this point of growth, then I can clean them up in the spring. If they are warm season plants they will die on their own here shortly. Other than a handful of grass plants scattered over the 4 acres, it remains grass free.

The low area I assumed had drowned out has bounced back pretty solidly.


At the top of the last photo you will see one area where the thick stemmed barnyard grass was laid down and not cut or removed. There are a few areas like this throughout the field and in these areas the alfalfa has been smothered out. It will take a while for these plants to be consumed and returned to the soil from which it came. Deer won't touch barnyard grass around here.

If you look closely in the next picture you can see how the alfalfa struggled to come back though the mat left on the soil surface. Notice also the remnants of foxtail which is still present from the first spraying. This area was very thick with foxtail at that time.

As for deer in this area, I still have to get a camera set out but in talking to one of the hunters, was told he was seeing 30 to 40 deer out feeding in the alfalfa of an evening. While this is good for hunting it sucks from a farming perspective, as the loss in crop will effect the tonnage I could be removing and getting paid for. We have had decent growing weather since the field was cut and baled and growth should be twice what I am seeing. Plants remain healthy and insect activity is light but the deer have been hammering this. Observation of deer piles found indicate this alfalfa continues to be a large portion of their diet at this time, no piles of deer pellets to be found, instead there are large deer logs scattering the area.
Made it out to check on the alfalfa that was just mowed with the batwing. It looks fair, not what I would expect from a farming/harvesting standpoint but still a solid food plot.

Here is an overview of what it looks like today.


And a close up showing what the majority of the 2 1/4 acre plot looks like.


Here is something that can be taken away from this method. Will it work, yes it can depending on available equipment and weed pressure. And the biggest point that can be taken away is just how effective mowing can be when done at the right time. Fact no herbicides were applied by me to this area. The plot was tilled prior to seeding, and mowed on the one occasion I shared pics from. Looking at the weeds now most of what you see standing are dead but survived the mower blades due to how thick the weeds were. There are a handful of weeds started in a few areas where the Alfalfa is sparse but most of them appear to be summer annuals and will die with cold temperatures.
Been a while but visited the Alfalfa the other day and due to our warmer than usual winter so far (was wearing tee shirt the other day) and took some pictures.


Remaining green for the time being. A lot of growth has been consumed since the plants growth rate has slowed / stopped.


Here is a picture taken from a trail cam around November 8th


See the difference in alfalfa between the pictures?
Just to give a representation of different food types and what they look like right now.

Here is a plot planted in early October with a mix of leftover seed some of which was a couple years old. There is Winter rye, Spring Oats, Forage Oats, Radish, and some Winter Pea in this mix. It was no-till drilled at almost 200 pounds per acre due to the late planting date. Cereal grains remain a highly sought after food while they are green succulent. I lost the picture I had showing every blade nipped off. Between the alfalfa and this patch of cereal there are right at 10 acres that deer are keeping mowed.


This was not a good year around here for brassica as it remained dry. This small area was disked, then lightly tilled before drilling brassica. There are some decent bulbs but I do admit bulb growth is due to the warmer than usual temps. We have had a handfull of nights down into upper 20s so the top growth has been effected.


Many of the tops have been consumed, especially the radish tops.


Tubers have remained untouched for the most part with the resident rabbit and rodent population hitting them hard.

Bulb growth on bulbs is decent and I have been told these turnips tasted excellent as I pulled them for a family friend who loves his turnips.