Forages are ready for harvest!

Mark Sulc, Rory Lewandowski, Jeff Stachler, Ohio State University Extension Agronomic Crops Network

Rainy weather is hampering attempts to harvest

Many alfalfa and forage stands across the state took a beating this winter and the wet spring has added insult to injury. For weak stands, harvesting a little later than normal will help them recover. However, we’ve seen some younger stands that are looking OK and are overall growing well despite the wet weather.

Orchardgrass was beginning to head out last week in Clark County and the alfalfa is ready or about ready for cutting (see below) in central Ohio and points to the south. Unfortunately, the rainy weather is hampering any attempts to harvest.

As we did last year, we are surveying alfalfa fields and estimating the neutral detergent fiber (NDF) content of those fields. For alfalfa, values ranging near 40-42% NDF are ideal for lactating dairy cows. For grasses, less than 55% NDF is ideal for lactating dairy cows, and once you see the grasses heading out, they are usually are near 55% NDF or higher. For classes of livestock with lower nutrient demands, higher NDF values are acceptable.

A short video describing the method we used to estimate NDF in the field can be found at the following website: Look for the title “Estimating Alfalfa Quality in the Field”.

Keep in mind that this method is for pure alfalfa stands. Grasses will raise the NDF content. Grass-alfalfa mixtures should be harvested as soon as conditions allow if they are intended for lactating dairy cows. However, do wait until the soil is firm enough to avoid wheel track damage. It is better to take our lumps with lower quality forage than to live with wheel track compaction damage for the remainder of the stand life.



The following shows our NDF estimates in alfalfa fields from several counties this past week:


Date Minimum %NDF Maximum %NDF Average %NDF
Wayne 14-May 29.9 35.4 32.3
Clark 15-May 37.1 40.4 38.6
Auglaize 19-May 34.5 39.5 36.8
Clark 20-May 40.7 41.4 41.1

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