Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Making the first hay

The alfalfa I planted earlier this year is now 24-30" tall, and is at the "1/10 bloom" stage of its growth.  That's a new term that I learned from this publication from Kansas State University, that talks about when to cut alfalfa and what the different growth stages mean.
This is the 100% alfalfa seeded area
 This is my 2nd attempt at growing alfalfa, and this one is going pretty well.  The plants look good, no sign of any issues at all.  And they're thick enough that they've crowded out most of the weeds.   There are still some weeds, but I suspect that once this is hayed that the alfafa will drown out any remaining weeds.  Part of my cutting at this stage is motivated by a weather window, and part by a desire to cut the weeds down before they go to seed, to cut down on the number of weed seeds available for the future.

This stand is organic; no herbicides, no pesticides.  Sunlight, soil, manure, rain are the ingredients.
100% alfalfa seeded area
 I am noticing some differences in overall fertility in various parts of the field.  I'll take some samples from those areas and make a note of the results for next year.  Generally speaking though, I'm happy with the growth and I think this will make fine alfalfa hay.
Individual plant stalk
 One thing I noticed when I was mowing this, was that I could feel the wheel ruts from planting.   I plowed and then disked, and then seeded the ground, and the seeding step depressed the soil under the tractor tires.  So the ground is subtly corrugated.  This is a bit of a problem -- the cutter can handle 6-7 miles an hour, but the washboard effect from the planting tire tracks makes it a rough ride.  So next time I'll make sure that the ground is as flat  as I can make it.  It's fine as hay ground, but smoother would allow me to work faster now.
alfalfa/grass test plot
 The alfalfa grass isn't as luxuriant a grow as the pure alfalfa.  The hope was that by adding grass to the mix that it would help the alfalfa by competing with weeds, and in the final bale, the grass would provide more fiber in addition to the nutrition from the alfalfa.   In this area, planted within a day of the pure alfalfa, the stems are 2-4" shorter.  It'll make good hay still... but I don't notice a difference in the number, type or quantity of weeds.   It's a bit cheaper seed mix though; grass seed is about 50% the cost of alfalfa seed, so I figure I saved $40 or so an acre.   Duly noted.
I'm going to let this go to full bloom
This is a multi-year experiment.  I'm going to allow a portion of each test area go to full bloom before harvesting - that means that the root system is very well developed.  I'm going to look at the winter survival and next years growth to see if there's any difference between that and stands that I harvested at 1/10th or 25% bloom.

So I like the look of this crop, but how good is good?  Only way to tell is to have it tested, and that's on the list.  For me, it gives me some feedback on how well the crop will serve in its intended purpose -- premium feed for dairy cows -- and it'll make it easier to sell to horse people.

The grass and alfalfa should produce something like 2 tons per acre across a couple of cuttings.  That means that I'll probably end up with somewhere north of 100 tons of hay.  The problem around here isn't growth - we have good soil and good growth.  The problem is haying weather.

  I'm going to bale this in small square bales this year, somewhere between 60 and 80lbs per bale, so somewhere between 2500 and 3000 bales total.  In this area alfalfa sells for $20 per 80lb bale, retail.  If I can make my bales look like the eastern washington hay I think that they'll sell well.  And I don't have transport costs, so the margin will be a bit better.

It's my intention to bale and stack this hay starting friday morning, and hopefully have it in the barn that evening.  For this first baling I've only cut 6 acres.  

1 comment:

curiousfarmer.com said...

Bruce, if you can get it baled right, it's going to be very high-quality feed. What we would call dairy-quality hay in Wisconsin.