Looking to plant a new hay field this spring? Instead of automatically planting pure alfalfa, consider mixing in some grass, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist.

Anderson says that while pure alfalfa is the best choice for some growers, mixing in a grass like orchardgrass might be just the ticket for cattle producers.

“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,” Anderson says. “Mixing grass with alfalfa usually lowers the protein but slightly increases the energy available from the hay. So your cows actually could receive a more balanced diet.”

Plus, he adds, if you sometimes graze your hayfields, grass will reduce bloat risk.

Furthermore, Anderson says grass can grow in areas where alfalfa isn’t well adapted, or fill in spots as alfalfa dies out. This is better than having weeds invade bare areas.

“Grass-alfalfa mixtures often dry out more rapidly after cutting than pure alfalfa so you might get more hay made without rain damage. And when it does rain, the mixture usually suffers less injury, both in the windrow and in the bale,” he says.

Yield-wise, protein yield per acre may be less with the grass-alfalfa mix, but total tonnage will be about the same or higher as pure stands. Most of the grass yield will come at first cut, so regrowth will be mostly alfalfa, he says.
-- Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska forage specialist