Forage Testing

I took three cutting off this hay field, and it’s ready to be cut or grazed again at the end of September.  I’ll wait until after a hard frost, but before the snow gets deep, to graze this field with cattle.

If I grazed this field now, the alfalfa may use most of its root reserves to initiate regrowth.  If a hard frost shuts down the alfalfa at this point, it may have a difficult time surviving the winter because its root reserves are too low.  Grazing or cutting after the plant has gone dormant has little effect.  The time I avoid cutting or grazing is from about September 15th to October 15th, for this climate.

Justin, formerly of  Midwestern Bio-Ag, took two forage samples, one from first cutting, and one from second cutting.  The samples were taken from square bales, stored in the barn.  First cutting was baled June 1st.  Second cutting was baled July 8th.  The alfalfa was full-bloom both times.

I don’t understand forage testing very well.  If you want an in-depth explanation, check out this excellent article from the University of Kentucky.

These were the first forage tests I’ve ever taken on my farm.  I’ll share some of what I learned.

Even though both cuttings were taken when the alfalfa was full-bloom, 2nd cutting was considerably higher in quality than 1st cutting.  The cattle’s preference confirms this.  2nd cutting was higher in protein, (17.28 to 16.58), lower in ADF fiber, (31.96 to 37.23), higher in TDN total digestible nutrients, (57.06% to 51.13%), and higher in RFQ relative feed quality, (143.91 to 108.68).

I’ll summarize what these numbers mean to me.  Cattle can maintain their weight eating the first cutting hay, and gain some weight eating the second cutting hay.

Some other interesting findings, calcium was low, lending credence to the importance of added calcium, which I have not done.  Manganese was fine, which is strange because my soil tests show low manganese.  Potassium was high, which is also strange because I didn’t add any potassium in the spring, eliminating the theory of luxury consumption, and the soil tests show medium potassium.

If you have any thoughts about this, please share.

3 Responses to Forage Testing

  1. I know nothing about farming, but the photographs are beautiful and peaceful, and I enjoy your process. It sounds like your results were somewhat surprising, that soil tests don’t predict results. I assume you’ll use a combination of the cuttings for the cattle?

  2. curiousfarmer says:

    Thanks Susan. A good strategy is to use lower quality hay for cows who just need to maintain weight, and higher quality hay for calves who we want to gain weight.

  3. Kristin says:

    This is an old post, I know. But I just found your blog. I’m thinking that plants, under certain conditions, certain mineral availability, etc, can more readily concentrate certain nutrients. I’m researching myself as we recently acquired 14 acres of old pasture/hay field and a lease on a neighboring 25. Gearld Fry has a website I found the other day that talks about minerals & livestock health. And I read an old book titled, let’s see if I can find it here, “The Farm that Won’t Wear Out” (free Kindle book on Amazon from near the turn of the last century) that covers a bit about soil & minerals. Perhaps it will help.

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