Is My Alfalfa Safe to Graze?

Is my alfalfa safe to graze after a hard freeze?  Usually the alfalfa is still quite green, even with low temperatures in the low twenties. There may be some wilting and yellowing, especially on the top, but most leaves still are attached to the plant stems.

The real question often being asked is “Can I be sure my cows won’t bloat and die if they graze my alfalfa?”.  To be quite honest, you never can be 100 percent certain that alfalfa won’t cause bloat.  I remember back to my father’s small dairy farm.  Over the years that I helped on his farm, my dad had a couple cows that would bloat even when eating dry alfalfa hay.  Since they were good milkers he didn’t want to cull them.  So those cows were hand fed small amounts of alfalfa hay at a time so their bloat could be minimized.

Thus, the only true answer to questions about grazing alfalfa safety is ‘probably’.  Bloat risk is much lower a week after a hard freeze that causes wilting.  But always use good animal husbandry methods to reduce the risk further.  Have cows full before turning out to alfalfa.  Wait until mid-day, after frost or dew is gone, before turning out.  Provide other dry, palatable feeds or even bloat guard.  And keep a close eye on them for the first couple days.

Alfalfa can be grazed safely with rotational stocking, even after a freeze.  Just be careful and realistic. ~ Dr. Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln