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Topics : Pastures : Grazing Alfalfa

Grazing Alfalfa

Additional pasture information via the Forage Information System (FIS)


Establishing Alfalfa for Grazing

Alfalfa grazing is not new. Alfalfa has been grazed alone or in mixtures with grasses and other legumes since its introduction into the United States. Compared with other management systems, however, grazing alfalfa has never been a widespread practice in this country. While alfalfa has been used extensively as a grazing crop in other countries, grazing of alfalfa in this country traditionally has been relegated to a clean-up operation in the fall.

Grazing systems to optimize alfalfa's grazing potential requires a higher level of management than do some grazing systems. In spite of this, interest in grazing alfalfa has been increasing.

Establish alfalfa for grazing just as you would if it were to be used for hay or silage by following these guidelines:

  1. Plant on a well-drained soil.
  2. Use a soil test as a guide for rates of lime, phosphorus and potash.
  3. Select an adapted, high-yielding, disease and insect-resistant variety. Use certified seed to ensure seed quality and purity.
  4. Inoculate the seed with fresh alfalfa inoculant just before seeding. Make sure the word "alfalfa" appears on the inoculant container. For pre-inoculated seed, check the date the seed was inoculated.
  5. Sow into a firm seedbed. Alfalfa can successfully be sown with a cultipacker-seeder, with a seeding attachment on a cultipacker, by broadcasting or with a drill, followed by rolling. Plant no deeper than 1/4 inch in heavy soil or 1/2 inch in light soil.
  6. Add lime, phosphorus and potassium as soil tests indicate. A good time to lime and fertilize for stand maintenance is at the end of one growing season and before growth starts the next season.