Alfalfa Harvest Decisions

Robb Wock, Dairy Production Consultant, Purina Animal Nutrition (507) 696-6351

Hopefully with enough planning (and a little cooperation from “mother nature”) our 2015 alfalfa harvest will result in a very high quality forage that can meet the expectations and goals for high performance. Unfortunately many of you have had some recent experiences of high yields but lower quality, which has had a significantly negative impact on performance and profitability. Sometimes all the planning in the world can’t help us much with how it all turns out. However with a little better understanding you can increase your probability of success. 

My experience on ALFALFA harvest timing the past few seasons has been that it is behooving of us to check stands early and often, and to plan for an earlier harvest just in case this becomes reality! In other words all too often I find Dairymen waiting until a certain “date on the calendar” rather than basing their decision on growing conditions and plant development. While every growing season (and even more so every cutting) is often very different, if we place our emphasis on the impact that the existing conditions have on plant development we simply can’t go wrong.

So as rudimentary as it may sound, if we watch plant development and plan far enough ahead we will give ourselves a higher probability of making a harvest decision while the plants are YOUNGER and not as MATURE developmentally so that we can take advantage of optimum “Fiber Digestibility”. It is no secret that we must make the decision to harvest at a time of plant development when NDF (=Neutral Detergent Fiber), ruNDF (=rumen undegradable Neutral Detergent Fiber) and Lignin levels have not yet reached significant proportions within plant tissues or plant cell walls. If we can make the right decision in this area than we significantly improve our chances of having higher-quality forages.

Many labs now offer some type of NDFd (=Neutral Detergent Fiber Digestibility) test, either based on some variation of an in-vitro digestibility (in a glass/flask) or NIR (=Near Infrared). Unfortunately both can be highly variable, particularly between labs, or by the nature of the in-vitro tests based on the rumen fluid and the timing of runs. However if we understand what the estimations from the test results mean and more importantly understand how to RANK fiber digestibility (NDFd) into categories than we will be better prepared to make the right decision. While there isn’t enough room to address how to evaluate fiber digestibility numbers or the ranking of categories within the confines of this article, I can tell you that I have had a lot of experience in using this information and am confident in the results. I would be happy to address this issue 1-on-1 with you at a time that is convenient for you. In the end it’s ALL about what makes YOU more successful. Feel free to call me at (507) 696-6351 or by email at

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