Are you going to plant a new hay field next spring? Instead of automatically planting pure alfalfa, think about mixing some grass into the planting, writes Bruce Anderson in his Nov. 28 edition of "Hay & Forage Minute."

The University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist says hay growers in his area often plant new fields to alfalfa without considering other alternatives. For lots of folks, pure alfalfa is the best choice, but mixing in some grass, like orchardgrass, with alfalfa might be better for some.

Anderson points out these advantages of a grass-alfalfa mixture:

  • If you regularly feed more than 5-6 lbs. alfalfa/day to stock cows in winter, they're probably getting more than enough protein but maybe not enough total digestible nutrients (TDN). Mixing grass with alfalfa usually lowers the protein but slightly increases TDN content of hay. Thus, cows could actually receive a more balanced diet.
  • If you sometimes graze your hay fields, grass will reduce the risk of bloat.
  • In the field, grass can grow in areas where alfalfa isn't well-adapted, or fill in spots as alfalfa dies out. This is preferable to weeds invading the bare areas.
  • Grass-alfalfa mixtures often dry out more rapidly after cutting than pure alfalfa, so rain damage to hay may be minimized. And if it does get rained on, the mixture usually suffers less injury, both in the windrow and in the bale.
  • Yield-wise, protein per acre may be less with the mix, but total tonnage will be about the same or higher than pure stands.
  • Most of the grass yield will come at first cut, so regrowth will be mostly alfalfa.
  • Selling a mixture can be more difficult though, because dairies prefer pure alfalfa and grass is more difficult to grind.
-- Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska