ISSUE 5 June 7, 2007
HARVESTING ALFALFA WITH FREQUENT RAINS
Alfalfa has been ready to harvest in the southeastern part of North Dakota for the past 10 days, but I have seen only one field laid into the windrow to date. The almost daily showers or downpours have prevented, or made vary difficult, any alfalfa harvest for hay to date. Even harvesting the hay as haylage has been very difficult. Harvesting hay in late May and early June often is a matter of dodging the frequent rainstorms in this area, so what can be done to improve the ability to get dry hay harvested?
I suggest trying a different technique when frequent light showers occur. If the showers (rains of 0.5 to 0.75 inches) are occurring every 3 to 4 days, consider laying the hay down in wide windrows the day the rain is suppose to occur. Light rain on newly cut hay does less damage to the quality of the hay than rain on nearly dry hay. Frequently the hay and ground will dry out before the next shower. Be sure to keep the window depth down so it can dry during the 3- to 4-day period. However, donít try this if heavy rain, greater than 1 inch, is forecasted.
Try 5 to 10 acres sometime and see how it works for you. This technique will not work every time, but it should help manage alfalfa in difficult weather conditions.
The objective of any hay producer is to obtain quality hay in the bale. Remember, every day you delay harvest past the optimum harvest stage, it becomes more difficult to obtain quality hay due to advancing growth stage on forage quality. Full-bloom alfalfa will only have a relative feed value of about 100 when your target is 150 or greater. Alfalfa harvested June 5 at 5% bloom was estimated at only 130 to 135 relative feed value. Continued delay waiting for the weather can reduce hay quality as much as rain damage.
Dwain W. Meyer
Extension Forage Management Specialist