Cool, Damp Weather Could Lower Alfalfa Quality

The cool, wet weather this spring may be having a negative effect on the quality of alfalfa as well as yield.

Preliminary tests by the Manitoba Forage Council show the fibre content of first-cut alfalfa is higher than usual.

If that continues, Manitoba cattle producers could have double trouble with alfalfa crops this year. Yields might be short because of flooding and the energy content of the hay could be below par as well.

Provincial forage specialist Glen Friesen said acid detergent fibre (ADF) and neutral detergent fibre (NDF) levels in early alfalfa samples are higher than they were at the same point of maturity in previous years.

The results are similar from samples taken at sites across southern Manitoba, including Steinbach, Somerset and Brandon.

Friesen hasn’t seen this phenomenon before and isn’t sure what to make of it.

“It may not be a serious matter,” said Friesen, who is stationed in Carman. “I don’t know what is going to happen to the second cut, though, if this is happening now and we have an unseasonably cool summer.”

Fibre is the content in the plant that’s not digested when the animal eats it. Low fibre content means more digestible material and more energy for the animal to gain weight. High fibre content means the opposite: less digestible matter and less energy.

If fibre content is too high, producers should consider supplemental feeding to boost energy levels in the feed, said Friesen.

He cautioned, though, that only a feed test can measure fibre content and relative feed value.

The reason for high fibre content is probably due to cool weather and wet conditions. Friesen said producers usually take the first of alfalfa when the crop is at a 10 per cent bloom stage. Waiting for the first bloom this year has delayed harvesting and perhaps given plants more time to increase fibre content.

Friesen said producers should try to harvest alfalfa as soon as they can to maintain hay quality.

But that may be easier said than done. Haying is far behind schedule this year because the ground is so soggy and the plants are not well advanced.

“Growth is ext remely slow,” said Pam Iwanchysko, a MAFRI forage specialist in Dauphin, where the first cut would normally be down by this time. “Getting out in the fields is going to be extremely challenging.”

Iwanchysko said haying in her region won’t begin for at least another month, even with favourable weather.

Many ranchers along Lake Dauphin and Lake Winnipegosis are in the same position as producers near Lake Manitoba. High water levels and inland flooding has wiped out pastures and raised the spectre of a feed shortage.

“I’m predicting a very big hay shortfall this fall,” Iwanchysko said.

But John McGregor, an extension specialist with the Manitoba Forage Council, said it’s too early to say. He has often seen a short first cut followed by bumper second and third cuts and sometimes even a fourth.

“I never base a feed shortage on first cut for alfalfa,” McGregor said.

Friesen said warm weather this summer could boost alfalfa yields on higher land that hasn’t been flooded, helping to compensate for shortfalls on fields with too much water. [email protected]

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“Ineverbaseafeedshortageonfirstcutforalfalfa.”

– JOHN MCGREGOR, MFC

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