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Growing good hay

In a cattle operation, access to adequate hay is vital. With prices already high, farmers are choosing to grow their own hay. But which scenarios are best for growth? Should you transition a corn or soybean field? Which nurse crop is best? Seeding hay is one conversation taking place in the Farmers For The Future network.

“I currently have 30 acres of alfalfa that need to be torn up, says Brady Smith of Emerson, Iowa. “It's been in production for a long time and hasn't been as productive. I'd like to take a first cutting off and no-till soybeans into the standing alfalfa, then kill the alfalfa with Roundup. I think it will be worth getting one cutting simply so I don't have to buy as much hay next year. Does anybody have experience seeding new alfalfa? I have a 30-acre field with good access, but this will be my first go at seeding.”

This response comes from pooboynotiller. “The soil needs to be very firm,” he advises. “To decide if it's ready to plant, I put on a pair of leather-sole boots and walk across the field. If there is anywhere that the soft dirt goes above the sole, it's too soft. I personally like to drill my alfalfa by itself in the fall – about a month or so before killing frost.”

“I currently have 30 acres of alfalfa that need to be torn up.” – Brady Smith

Dave Kraeer adds, “We always plant a mix of timothy and alfalfa new seedings with oats as a nurse crop. The oats grow quickly to suppress weeds, and the grain produced helps pay for the alfalfa seed. Also, we bale the straw for cow bedding. Our target planting date is late March to early April. Last year with the weather, we weren't able to get it in until June. Oats can also be baled for hay when it's between the boot and early-heading stage.”

Andrew Akin says, “We always take the first cutting, then no-till corn. We get a bigger bang with that fixed nitrogen on corn. Make sure you get a little regrowth on the alfalfa or you won't get a good kill; you'll have to come back over the top of the corn with a post spray. We usually chop that corn, rip and work that ground, then put winter wheat in. Next year, after you take the wheat off, soil-sample it and put on what you need, then go back to alfalfa in September. The fall-planted stuff always seems to do better for us, because we have less of a weed pressure than we do with spring-planted alfalfa.”

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