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- The goal when harvesting legumes is to maximize the economic yield of nutrients while ensuring stand persistency. Legumes can be harvested as dry hay or as higher moisture haylage or silage.
- The stage of maturity at which legumes are cut influences feed quality as nutritive value declines with maturity.
- Leaf loss during harvesting reduces protein content, while rain prior to baling reduces the levels of soluble carbohydrates due to leaching. Regardless of the harvesting and storage methods some dry matter and nutrient losses occur and will vary with management practices.
- The harvest of legumes including alfalfa, red clover, and birdsfoot trefoil requires a compromise between forage quality and stand persistency. Frequent cuttings produce high quality forage while less frequent cuttings generally result in increased stand longevity.
- Not all classes of livestock need the same forage quality and harvesting should be scheduled so that the forage quality corresponds with the nutrient demands of the animals.
- Carbohydrates stored in the taproots and crowns are the energy reserves essential for winter hardiness, initial spring growth, and subsequent regrowth after cutting. Energy reserves are the highest when plants are in full bloom and lowest shortly after cutting when the plant is actively growing.
- Winter hardiness is a key factor influencing stand longevity. Legume varieties with early fall dormancy tend to be more winter hardy. Less dormant varieties tend to have faster regrowth with higher yield potential but are more susceptible to winter injury.
- Alfalfa is the most productive legume and most widely adapted. Under good management it has good persistency and longevity.
- Desired forage quality and the length of the cropping rotation dictates cutting frequency.
- High quality alfalfa can be harvested when cut at the bud-to-early bloom stage.
- Risks to alfalfa stand persistence can be minimized by allowing at least one harvest during the growing season to reach 1/10 or greater bloom along with high levels of fertility and proper timing of fall harvest which allows high energy reserves to accumulate in the roots.
- The first harvest of red clover should occur at the early bloom stage with subsequent cuts at the late-bud to early-bloom stage.
- Harvesting of red clover during hot dry weather which are stressful growth periods, can weaken the plants and cause stand reduction.
- With adequate regrowth, a late harvest of red clover can be taken in the fall.
- Cutting management of Birdsfoot Trefoil differs from alfalfa as energy reserves remain low throughout the growing season regardless of the number of harvests. Leaving at least a 3” stubble is critical for regrowth as energy is provided by the bottom leaves.
- It is best for Birdsfoot Trefoil that the first cutting occur at the early-bloom stage with subsequent cuttings at mid-bloom.
- Good fall management of Birdsfoot Trefoil requires four-to-five weeks of growth prior to a killing frost.
- It is possible to thicken the stand of Birdsfoot Trefoil if it is allowed to reseed itself every 2-3 years. Forage quality at this advanced stage of maturity is adequate for livestock with moderate to low nutrient requirements.
Alfalfa Harvest Management Discussions with Cost-Benefit Analysis - available in PDF format
Alfalfa Hay Quality Makes the Difference
Alfalfa Hay Quality Testing
Alfalfa Management Guide
Control of Pocket Gophers and Ground Squirrels
Cutting Management of Alfalfa, Red Clover and Bird’s Foot Trefoil - available in PDF format
Fall Cutting Management for Alfalfa - available in PDF format
Feeding Value of Alfalfa Hay and Alfalfa Silage
Growing Alfalfa for Hay
Mechanically Conditioning Alfalfa Hay - available in PDF format
Predicting Alfalfa Quality Using PEAQ
Thoughtful Planning and Completion of Alfalfa Harvesting Leads to Bigger Profits - available in PDF format
Timing Spring Alfalfa Harvest - The Final Word?
Alfalfa resistance to post-harvest Aspergillis species: Response to selection - available in PDF format
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