Grazing Alfalfa

Jeff McCutcheon, OSU Extension Educator, Knox County

Is your alfalfa in full bloom but not tall enough to mechanically harvest? One option you have is grazing it. Grazing mature, moisture stressed alfalfa would allow you to utilize the crop and rest your pastures.

Rotational grazing during the summer seldom harms the alfalfa stand. It is very important to monitor grazing to prevent overgrazing. Severe overgrazing can damage the crowns of alfalfa plants.

Many producers mention bloat as the reason they do not graze their alfalfa. No management practice can guarantee that bloat will not occur. However, its likelihood can be greatly reduced when grazing alfalfa. The following suggestions can reduce the risk of bloat:

* Fill animals with hay before turning them into alfalfa for the first time. Don’t allow animals to get hungry. Hungry animals may overeat and bloat when they get fresh pasture.

* Gradually (over a 5- or 6-day period) increase the time that animals have access to alfalfa pasture.

* Observe animals at least twice a day when they are turned onto alfalfa pasture.

* Once animals are used to alfalfa pasture, leave them on pasture constantly, even at night.

* Do not put animals out onto alfalfa pasture if a heavy dew is present.

* More mature alfalfa is less likely to cause bloat. Minimize potential problems by turning animals onto alfalfa that has reached the bloom stage.

* Begin feeding poloxalene 2 to 5 days before turning animals onto alfalfa pasture. Use higher dosages when first placing animals on alfalfa pasture, and reduce the rate if no problems occur.