- Avoid damaging the crown buds during the harvest. Target an optimum cutting height of 7cm and never cut below 5cm.
- Allow plants to flower once a year to ensure storage of nutrients in the tap root to improve winter hardiness and boost spring growth.
- Cut silage and hay early before the crop begins to flower to ensure maximum feed quality. Allow a minimum of 4 weeks between cuts.
- Avoid late cuts, particularly in years with high precipitation and early autumn frosts.
- Harvest silage quickly, minimising the time between cutting and baling or stacking. Cut when wilting conditions are good and leave the forage in a wide drying window.
- When harvesting for maximum persistence, cut alfalfa at the stage between the first flower and 25% flower. Approximately 35 - 40 days between cuttings. This system has a longer harvest window and longer cutting interval than cutting for high quality.
- When harvesting for high quality, cut early in the season when the plants are around 30 cm in height. Leave a 10 cm residual after cutting to promote tillering of the plant. Make further subsequent cuts before 10% buds. It is generally 27-35 days after the last cutting early and close to the end of the season as temperatures drop. Cutting for high quality means cutting within a 3 - 4 day harvest window.
Optimum yield and quality
- For harvest schedules to provide the highest yield of high quality forage, the first two cuttings must be timely. During this time forage quality changes most rapidly and short delays mean low quality forage. Take the first cutting at bud stage. Take the second cutting 35 - 42 days after the first cut or at 10% bud (whichever is earliest).
- Take the subsequent cutting at around 10% bloom. An early first harvest followed by a short cutting interval gives a high yield of quality forage. Half to full bloom cutting is recommended before autumn to allow the alfalfa to build up its carbohydrate root reserves for winter and the subsequent spring production.
To find out more, download our Alfalfa calendar guide: click here.