Alfalfa Consolidation Rules of the Day

The alfalfa seed industry has gone through a massive makeover in the past 20 years. There are significantly fewer seed marketers and breeding programs, precious few university testing trials. This consolidation provides both positives and negatives for the alfalfa producer. The remaining breeding programs are all first-class entities with highly skilled individuals making cultivar selections. They wouldn’t have survived otherwise.

On a negative note, there is less competition and brand choices for the farmer. Many brands have simply fallen along the proverbial roadside.

The greatest challenge in the variety selection game is that university performance trials have become few and far between. There was a day when many universities were testing 30 to 40 varieties per year, but those days are gone. This has occurred for several reasons:

· Program managers either left or retired, and their positions weren’t filled.

· Companies preferred not to enter their varieties.

· The expense of running or entering trials was too great given economic constraints.

The result of fewer third-party testing programs is that producers must now find out in real time if a variety is a top performer or not, at least relative to other brand options. This situation is likely not to change.

Even with significant industry consolidation and fewer variety trials, there is still money to be made by devoting some time to alfalfa variety selection. There remain some

foundational selection concepts that are as true today as they have ever been. In fact, there may be more. Here’s my list:

1) Get data if you can, but that’s becoming more difficult with fewer university trials and very little on-farm testing.

2) Don’t select based only on one trait. This is always a recipe for disaster and is akin to picking your spouse based solely on hair color.

3) Consider fall dormancy. Fall dormancy rating is still an important consideration for both yield and forage quality. The trend is toward higher fall dormancy ratings with fast regrowth potential and exceptional winter survival.

4) Yield still matters. Forage yield remains the key factor to a profitable alfalfa enterprise. A modest 1/4 ton (dry matter) per acre yield advantage equates in value to 13 to 17 bushels per acre of corn.

5) Seed cost is easy to recover with enhanced performance. Unlike an annual crop such as corn, added alfalfa seed cost doesn’t have to be recovered in one year. The real “cost” of seed is not reflected in the purchase price alone.

Seeding an inferior-yielding variety, regardless of price, means that long-term costs of production are higher per ton of forage produced. Generally speaking, advanced genetics and performance are going to cost more money. Conversely, cost is always a consideration when choosing between comparable varieties. ~ Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower, Oct. 2020. Read the full article here.

Forage Timely Tips: October

  • Using a plate meter or grazing stick, estimate stockpile available for winter grazing. 
  • Adjust animal numbers or purchase additional hay to balance forage-feed supply to livestock needs. 
  • Graze crop residues and cover crops that will not overwinter.  Be careful to avoid fields that contain johnsongrass. 
  • Graze winter annuals that will not overwinter such as brassics and oats. 
  • Graze other winter annuals once they are 6-8 inches tall and are well anchored.  Do NOT graze closer to 4 inches. 
  • Sugar content will rise in tall fescue with the cool temperatures and short days of fall. Alkaloid content of tall fescue can also be high in come years, but will begin decline after a hard freeze.
  • Talk with local conservationist about developing a grazing plan and cost-share opportunities. 

Sericea – The No-Respect Legume

Sericea lespedeza is a legume that does not get any respect. It can be an invasive, woody and completely useless plant that livestock refuse to eat. While, I agree that a lot of sericea’s negative reputation is duly earned,  I have recently had a change of heart. Hear me out, I have not lost my mind. What follows are six reasons why sericea might deserve a little more respect.

Photo by Dr. Jimmy Henning

1. Sericea is a perennial taprooted legume that grows well in the middle of the summer. That puts it in a pretty exclusive club.

2. Sericea can persist on acidic, low fertility sites. Sericea is commonly grown on reclaimed mine sites where the soil is extremely acidic, infertile and very droughty. It can be seen growing on gravelly road cuts and other similar areas across Kentucky. It is a very tough plant.

3. There are improved varieties of sericea (like AU-Lotan, Serala and AU-Grazer) that have been selected for lower tannin and finer stems which can support good cattle gains. In a comparison of 37 multi-year grazing studies in Alabama, pure stands of sericea lespedeza were three of the top ten forages for lowest pasture cost per pound of gain. These studies were with Serala and AU-Lotan.

4. The process of field curing of sericea greatly drops the tannin content. Cattle which will avoid sericea pasture will readily consume the same forage cured for hay.

5. Sericea cures quickly and can make good hay. Sometimes called the poor man’s alfalfa, sericea hay is palatable to livestock because the tannin levels decline significantly during field curing. After reading number 6 below, you can see where you might have a ready market for this hay with sheep and goat producers.

6. If you raise sheep or goats, you may already know about the super power of sericea lespedeza. All forms of sericea, from hay, pelleted formulations, silage and pasture have a de-worming effect when fed to small ruminants. Managing internal parasites with small ruminants is difficult because they can graze very close to ground and they can develop resistance to the few de-worming products labeled for small ruminants. The erect growth habit of sericea is also beneficial in managing internal parasites because fewer parasitic stomach worm larvae will crawl up into the elevated grazing zone of sheep and goats.

Sericea lespedeza is not about to knock clover or alfalfa off the gold medal podium when it comes to Kentucky’s most valuable legume. But now you know why it may walk with more of a swagger.

Pub of the Month: Cyanide Poisoning in Ruminants (ID-220)

Prussic acid, cyanide, or hydrocyanic acid are all terms relating to the same toxic substance. Hydrogen cyanide was first isolated from a blue dye (Prussian blue) and because of its acidic nature it became known by the common name “prussic acid.” Cyanide is one of the most rapidly acting toxins that affect cattle. Download the full publication here. Contact your local county agent for more info and for testing options.

Agenda Set for 2020 Kentucky Grazing Conferences

This year’s Kentucky Grazing Conference will be held virtually in three sessions from 6-8pm on October 27, 28 and 29th with a theme of Adapting to Change: Designing Resilient Forage-Livestock Systems. Presentations include:

October 27

· Managing Soil Fertility in Uncertain Times—Jimmy Henning

· Selecting Forage Species for a Changing Environment—Jesse Ramer

· Managing Risk in Forage-Livestock Enterprises—Kenny Burdine

October 28

· **Keynote Speaker** Selecting and Managing Livestock for Changing Conditions—Johnny Rogers, Producer, NCSU Amazing Grazing Coordinator and Past President of the Red Angus Association 

· Forage Spokesperson Contest

October 29

· Using What the Good Lord Gave Us—Chris Teutsch

· USDA-ARS Forage-Livestock Research Update—Brittany Harlow

· Fifty Years of Change: Observation of an Old Geezer—Bill Payne

Click here for more information or to register.

Results from 600 Hay Samples: What They Tell Us and What They Don’t

      Last fall we analyzed almost 600 hay samples as part of the Eastern Kentucky Hay Contest.  Here is a summary of what we found:

· Crude protein (3.2 to 21.7%) and total digestible nutrients (41.8 to 68.3%) varied widely

· 9% of the hay samples contained less than 50% TDN

· 22% of the hay samples contained less than 8% crude protein

· Only 85 samples or 14% contained enough energy to meet the requirements of a beef cow at peak lactation

· Only 248 samples or 42% would meet the protein requirements of a beef cow at peak lactation

· 459 samples or 78% contained enough protein to meet the needs of a dry pregnant cow

· 539 samples or 91% contained enough energy to meet the requirements of a dry pregnant cow

So, what does all of this tell us?  The results of these 600 samples tells us that if you are feeding hay to lactating cows, you will likely need to provide some type of supplement to keep cows from loosing condition, especially first calf heifers that are trying to grow and feed a calf. 

So, don’t these results tell us?  Since there was such wide variation in both crude protein and energy for the hay samples in this dataset, no recommendations can be made on what or how much to supplement.  To make this type of recommendation, you will need to sample the hay by lots (one cutting from one field) that you will be feeding (see last month’s article in the Cow Country News).  Once you have the results in hand, then a supplementation program can be designed by either working your local extension agent or veterinarian or by using the UK Beef Cow Forage Supplementation Tool, found at

It is important to realize that both hay testing and the UK Beef Cow Forage Supplement Tool are NOT perfect.  They are designed to get you in the ballpark and let you know if there is going to be a real problem with the hay that you are feeding.  The true test is how your cows perform on a given hay lot. If you need help with hay sampling or interpreting your hay testing results, make sure and contact your local extension agent. 

Forage testing is available from a number of commercial labs and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.  More information on this program can be found here.  Make sure and use a lab that has been certified for accuracy and precision by the National Forage Testing Association.  A list of certified labs can be found at NFTA Certified Labs. 

UK to Host Two Regional Fencing Schools this Fall

The University of Kentucky will host two regional fencing schools this fall to help livestock producers learn about the newest fencing techniques and sound fence construction.

The schools are Oct. 13 at the Wolfe County Extension office in Campton and Oct. 15 at the Barren County Extension office in Glasgow. Each day will begin with registration at 7:30 a.m. local time and end around 4:30 p.m.

Chris Teutsch, UK forage extension specialist, started these one-day events in 2018 to help producers improve their grazing management.

“If you have ever driven around the countryside, there are a lot of fences but not a lot of well-constructed ones,” said Teutsch, a faculty member in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “One of the goals of this school is to help people get the basics of fencing down. That way they can build a strong, durable fence that will last 25 or 30 years, or if they decide to hire a contractor to build it for them, they’ll at least know what a well-constructed fence looks like.”

Through a mixture of classroom instruction and hands-on demonstrations, UK specialists and fencing industry experts will teach producers the basics of a well-built fence. An added bonus of the school is that the techniques producers learn can help them with cost-share dollars from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for new fence construction.

Each school is limited to 30 participants, and the cost is $30 per person. Participants can register online at or by emailing the registration form and payment to Carrie Tarr-Janes, UK Research and Education Center, 348 University Drive, Princeton, KY, 42445. In addition to online registration, registration forms are available at local offices of the UK Cooperative Extension Service.

Producers are encouraged to register early, as spots will fill quickly. The registration deadline for each location is two weeks prior to the workshop occurring.

The Kentucky Forage and Grassland Council, UK Cooperative Extension Service and the Master Grazer Program organize and sponsor the schools along with their industry partners, Gallagher USA, Stay-Tuff Fencing and ACI Distributors.