Like any forage, alfalfa production carries its unique challenges from seeding to feeding. Specifically, when discussing the quality necessary to provide good nutrition to high-producing dairy cows, some dairies have opted to avoid the headaches that can come with making high-quality dry hay, haylage, or baleage. Panelists during the December 8 Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream, reminded listeners that while the effort to produce alfalfa can be taxing, it still can fill an important need in rations.

“I’ve been a little bit bearish on alfalfa in the last few years following stronger winterkill for a lot of regions,” shared Rock River Laboratory’s John Goeser. “However, with today’s protein prices, more expensive soybeans and high prices through the whole protein complex, it fills a role.”

The same forces that have strained the protein complex have leaked into alfalfa, elevating the price of premium quality hay, along with somewhat challenging growing conditions across the country in 2021.
“In November, nationally, premium alfalfa was running $244 per ton for that hay, and all alfalfa averaged like $196 per ton,” explained the University of Illinois’ Mike Hutjens.

While models still consider alfalfa a value product to include in rations, the margin of value is lower for the product considering its high price.

Stretching inventory

Perhaps alfalfa’s most useful role in rations this year will be helping stretch corn silage inventories. The webcast focused on 2021 corn silage’s harder corn kernel, and the panelists described the benefit of letting that kernel ferment longer for better digestibility in the cow.

“What alfalfa inventory do we have available on-farm?” Goeser questioned the group. “If we have bunkers of alfalfa, maybe we lean a little harder into that and stretch out that corn silage inventory just a touch and let our new crop ferment just a little bit longer recognizing it has a bit less digestible starch.”

Alfalfa production or purchase on dairies provides more flexibility in the ration for those formulating, feeding, and even for the cows consuming that diet.

To watch the recording of the December 8 DairyLivestream, go to the link above. The program recording is now also available as an audio-only podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and downloadable from the Hoard’s Dairyman website.

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The next broadcast of DairyLivestream will be on Wednesday, January 19 at 11 a.m. CST. In the new year, we will be moving to a new system, and you will need to re-register to continue receiving email updates and links to the webcasts. Please note that your current links will become inactive starting in 2022. You can sign up here now. Re-registering once will sign you up you for all 2022 and future events.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2021
December 13, 2021
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