Some of the best pasture of the year may still be available this fall – from your alfalfa fields, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln forage specialist.

Besides offering considerable high-quality grazing in the fall, Anderson says grazing avoids the problem of slow curing of hay that often occurs during the fall and eliminates the cost of baling.

“Many growers find that grazing alfalfa in the fall provides some special flexibility that often is useful this time of year. Alfalfa makes an outstanding weaning pasture for spring calves; yearlings continue to gain weight rapidly on fall alfalfa even after summer grass starts to die off; cows gain excellent condition before winter by grazing alfalfa during the fall; and ewes and lambs perform very well on fall alfalfa,” Anderson says.

Fall grazing of alfalfa isn’t without problems, though, he points out. Bloat is a concern, but there’s less risk once alfalfa has been frosted and begun to dry down. To protect livestock from bloat, Anderson suggests filling them with hay before turning them onto alfalfa. Also, maintain access to dry hay or corn stalks while grazing alfalfa to help reduce bloat.

“Or you can swath your alfalfa ahead of grazing and let animals graze dry hay in the swath,” he says. Bloat protectants like poloxalene can be fed as blocks or mixed with grain. It’s an expensive supplement, he adds, but it works well when animals eat a uniform amount each day.

“Also be careful not to damage your alfalfa stand. Only graze when fields are dry and firm. Reserve a small sacrifice area to graze and for feeding when soils are wet to avoid damaging the entire field.”
-- Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska