Alfalfa adds to Bermuda grass

Alfalfa adds to Bermuda grass

Bermudagrass is a staple species in many Southeast hayfields. However, unpredictable rainfall patterns and long periods of wet weather can make harvesting this warm-season grass a daunting task.

Balage making is one way to reduce the risk of rain on dry hay. In fact, at the U.S. Forage and Grassland Council’s annual conference last week in Mobile, Alabama, Jennifer Tucker of the University of Georgia said balage would be a game-changer in the Southeast. However, Bermudagrass cannot win this game alone.

“If you ask an economist, it doesn’t make sense to use bermudagrass to produce forage at the quality and tonnage that you’re going to get,” the beef and forage specialist said. “When we grow alfalfa with bermudagrass, things will explode if we put that mixed feed in the balage.”

Tucker explained that planting alfalfa in bermudagrass stands improves the load and lengthens the growing season, thus enhancing overall production. For example, bermuda grass is most productive during the warmer months of the year, but clover grows best in the spring and fall. Combining the two types into one system will improve the growth patterns of both forages.

Alfalfa Bermuda balm can also be of higher quality than pure Bermuda balm. Tucker noted that the high crude protein and digestible nutrients of alfalfa reduces the need for supplements during winter feeding, which also enhances farm profitability.

“This way, we don’t have to buy additional nutrients to meet the animals’ needs. “Alfalfa expands our land use, filling in gaps in forage production,” Tucker said. “And if the clover doesn’t establish well or dies over time, you still have Bermuda grass base.

Red clover considerations

Despite the benefits of alfalfa for bermudagrass, Tucker said some producers prefer alfalfa because it is easier to create and maintain. Although species such as crimson clover and leaf clover are effective in boosting bermudagrass productivity, she said these annual legumes are not a long-term solution for improving hydration.

On the other hand, red clover can have similar benefits to alfalfa found in Bermudagrass. Tucker conducted a study comparing the two legume options and found that both blends had similar yields and quality over the life of the stand. She noted that red clover can sometimes become a competitor to bermudagrass and can shade it out over time. However, it has proven to be a viable option for balage production.

Increasing yields of alfalfa or red clover would result in increased yields annually, which may not be attractive or possible for some farmers. In this case, Tucker recommended implementing a dual-use approach to managing mixed stands by harvesting forage in the spring and grazing forage in the fall.

Tucker noted that alfalfa will be the dominant species in spring grass production, and she suggested grazing livestock on ryegrass pastures or feeding grasses from the previous year during this time. Then, after allowing the forages to rest until late summer, there should be enough biomass to begin grazing in mixed stands by September.

“Legume integration will pay dividends for producers,” Tucker concluded. “Baleage is something we need to embrace as we continue to see different weather patterns that make each year less predictable than the previous year.”

    (tags for translation) Flash Feed adds clover to Amber Friedrichsen's Bermuda grass

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