Alfalfa Seeding Checklist

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  • Create a clean, clod-free seedbed before planting.

         This seedbed should be firm to assist in control of planting depth. Even depth means even emergence and a full stand of alfalfa, and possibly a grass mix. Both pre-plant and post-     establishment fertilizer should be applied for stand establishment and the health of the new seeding.

         Side Note: Make sure to check for any possible herbicide carry-over, alfalfa seedlings can be sensitive.

  • Calibrate drill ahead of planting, checking seeding rate and planting depth.

         Depending on the situation, seed alfalfa at 20 to 25 pounds of alfalfa per acre at a depth of ¼ inch. A lower rate would be appropriate when including a grass blend with the alfalfa (15-20 lbs alfalfa with 3-5 lbs of your choice of grass mix).

  • Use an appropriate nurse crop and harvest it in a timely fashion.

         In a perfect world, we could plant forage oats at 90 pounds per acre with our new alfalfa seeding and get a huge forage cutting while having a thick stand of alfalfa underneath. But odds are you will end up with a stand like this:

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        We have to be realistic with our nurse crop yield goals and how much we want our alfalfa to be successful. Young seedlings are sensitive to competition and shading, so a rate of 30-50 pounds of forage or grain oats is more realistic. After all, a long-term, healthy alfalfa stand is the main goal.

Side Note:  If no nurse crop is used to establish alfalfa, be prepared to use herbicide for weed control.

  • Once established, harvest the new seeding when appropriate and when conditions are good to prevent damage to the new stand.

        Ah, yes. Your nurse crop is harvested and your alfalfa stand is up and thriving. Time to cut it as close to the ground as possible after a 3-inch rain!! Please don’t....

        Those young plants are still working on establishing root reserves. Both wheel traffic and low cutting heights can be detrimental. Let the stand being to bloom and make sure ground conditions are adequate to not damage the new crowns of the plants. Cutting height should be at least 4+ inches to allow enough surface area for the plant to continue growing without having to drastically pull from its newly formed root reserves. Allow enough growth in the fall to provide cover and allow alfalfa to build adequate root reserves for winter survival.

Use these steps to set your alfalfa seeding up for success!


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Why add Peas to Small Grains?

Planting spring cereals for forage is a common practice, but what about adding peas to the mix? Forage peas combined with forage oats, barley, or triticale at a total seeding rate of 80-100 lbs per acre in the spring can be a great way to improve your spring forage.

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Forage Quality Improvements Harvested at Boot Stage

  • Protein: Increase 2-5 percentage points, about 12%-20% CP
  • NDF (Undigestible portions): Reduced 4-9 percentage points, about 45%-60% NDF
  • RFQ: 125-130
  • These factors create a forage that is also more palatable and digestible when harvested in a timely manner

When should a mix like this be harvested?

                This depends on the end user of the forage and your goals. If you want the highest quality forage to be fed to lactating dairy cows, the mix should be harvested when the small grain is in late boot stage. Feeding the mix to dry cows or beef cattle with the goal of higher tonnage is a different story. Maximum tonnage will be achieved when the mixture is harvested at soft dough stage, but quality will be lower at that time (RFQ of 100-110). 

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Planted as a Nurse Crop –

We have already answered some frequently asked questions about nurse crops, but there are some specifics about using peas and a small grain as a nurse crop. The rate for an oat pea mix should not exceed 40-60 pounds per acre. This ensures success of the alfalfa stand below and helps to avoid lodging. Remember, if your main goal is tonnage from the small grain and pea mixture, it may be better to seed that mix alone and not as a nurse crop.

Other Benefits of Peas and Small Grains?

                Including a small grain and oat mix in your rotation is a great way to increase diversity on your farm. The small grain and peas themselves provide diverse root types to improve your soil and feed different biology. You can also imagine that the amount of above ground growth that the mix provides is mirrored in the below ground root systems that penetrate and condition your soils. Harvesting this mix for forage also provides as excellent window for a diverse warm season cover crop to be planted and accumulate growth before a frost.

Would you consider oats and peas in your farm’s rotation?

Understander, Dan. "Pea and Small Grain Mixtures." Focus on Forage, University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, vol. 5, no. 7, 2003.


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Critical Firsts for New Seedings

A new pasture seeding is an important investment in any operation. That investment should be taken care of properly. Early management of a pasture stand can be what makes or breaks its success. We have said before that three reasons new seedings fail are seed bed prep, competition, and nature. Nature is out of our hands, but let’s say that you jumped the first hurdle of seed bed prep and the planting of your pasture mix went smoothly. The next obstacle is keeping competition down by managing the first weeks after planting, first harvest, and first spring of the new stand. Here are some guidelines for those critical “firsts”:

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First Few Weeks - Grass seedlings do not tolerate shade, that is why competition in the first weeks after planting can be such a killer of new seedings. In the first few weeks after planting, it is important to monitor weed pressure and stay ahead of them. Depending on your operations preferences, clipping or spraying out weeds can keep them under control. Proper seed bed preparation often minimizes this issue because firm seed-to-soil contact ensures that seedlings get up and going and can stay ahead of the competition.

First Harvest - For the first harvest of a new seeding, whether it is grazing or mechanical, conditions must be dry to avoid pugging or causing ruts. Pasture species should be well established before this harvest, but can still be susceptible to physical damage from livestock or equipment. Grazing should be light and the cutting height of mechanical harvest must be 6-8 inches. New seedings will struggle when grazed too tightly or cut too short as this will limit the reserves they are able to pull from for regrowth.

First Spring - The first spring of a newly established stand is its time to shine. This will be a period of rapid growth of cool season grasses that will require timely cutting or grazing. This ensures the grasses remain vegetatively growing and encourages tillering. This grazing is also a chance to get plenty of light down to any lower-growing legumes or forbs that are waking up in the spring. If you are rotationally grazing, keep in mind that spring may be a time where you need to make hay from certain paddocks that get a head of your livestock.

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Interseeding into Pasture Stands

Interseeding into Pasture Stands

                We’ve told you before about our formula for interseeding into pastures, but what should you use when interseeding? That depends on what your goal for the stand is, but we have a few options…

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  1. Renovator – Throughout the life of a pasture stand, many variables can cause the stand to thin. If your goal is to add more grasses to a pasture, Renovator at 10-15 lbs per acre can be a great option. We have found that this blend of Soft-Leaf Tall Fescue, Meadow Fescue, Perennial Ryegrass, Orchardgrass, Timothy, and Italian Ryegrass works very well being interseeded into existing stands. The Italian Ryegrass will be your quick to establish portion and the rest of the blend will add persistent diversity with proper management.
  2.  Diversifier – At PCS, we are proponents of having legumes in your pastures link to karls. If you are looking to increase the legume percentag3e of your pastures, Diversifier is what you need. It does just what the name says, diversifies your stand with red clover, white clover, alfalfa, crimson clover, alsike clover, and birdsfoot trefoil. The recommended rate to interseed with would be 5-8 lbs per acre. This multi-species blend adds in a combination of fast establishing legumes along with more persistent varieties. This pairs very well with Renovator if you are needing to add grasses and legumes.
  3. Freedom! MR Red Clover – This simple, mildew resistant legume addition can really boost a pasture. Freedom! MR is easy to establish and works well in existing stands. It is free of non-glandular hairs which make it more palatable and gives you the option of dry hay if pastures get ahead of your livestock.

When interseeding anything, remember the formula:

Graze/Cut → Drill in new species → Graze/Cut when established stand begins to fill in

This sequence gives new seedlings the maximum amount of light to establish and boost your pasture stand!


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Interseeding into Alfalfa - Long-term

Have you realized that you need to boost your alfalfa and want to extend the stand for two or more years? You need an option that will last longer than the short-term choices we gave you. One of these should fit what you are looking for…

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  1. Hakari Brome – Woah woah woah, this was on the short-term list link! It was, but as we mentioned there, Hakari can persist for 2-3 years with proper management (remember, 3-4-inch stubble height and ample regrowth time). Adding 8-10 lbs per acre of this “rescue grass” will provide high-quality forage and will dry down for hay. Use this to interseed into alfalfa stands that are on fertile, well-drained ground.
  2.  Perennial Ryegrass – A perennial ryegrass such as Payday or Barsprinter will be quick to establish, increase production, and persist for more than the first season under good conditions. Perennial ryegrass also likes fertile soils that are well-drained, but will most likely not dry down. This is a great option where silage or baleage is the goal.
  3.  Haymaster – By adding 8-10 lbs per are of this soft-leaf tall fescue, orchardgrass, and timothy blend, you will increase the production of the stand long-term. These perennial grasses make excellent quality, dry hay. In situations where you want to keep the alfalfa stand in place for two or more years, Haymaster is the way to go.

In any of the above recommendations, the addition of 3-4 lbs per acre of Freedom! MR red clover would be beneficial if an additional legume portion is desired. Freedom! MR is free of non-glandular hairs providing an addition legume that will dry down well and offer mildew resistance. Generally, Freedom! MR will maintain in a well-managed stand for two years.

Consider these options for stand that can be maintained long-term!

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Spring Seeding into Poor Alfalfa

As you evaluate your alfalfa stands this spring and decide that something needs done, there are options for that land to produce forage for your operation this coming season…

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  1. Italian Ryegrass – An Italian ryegrass like Green Spirit or Tetraprime can be interseeded at 8-12 lbs per acre to add thickness to the stand to very high quality, highly digestible forage. This will make dairy quality silage or baleage when harvested timely, but will generally not dry down for dry hay. Italian ryegrass will usually only persist for one year, but could potentially overwinter for a spring harvest or be used as a green manure. Avoid drought prone soils or low fertility environments and be aware that summer heat and humidity can lessen production of a stand.
  2.  Hakari Brome – Interseeded at 8-12 lbs per acre, Hakari brome can be your “rescue grass” to add to hay production in year one. This is a quick-to-establish, short-lived perennial that can persist for 2-3 years when managed properly. This includes a mowing height of 3-4 inches to leave enough stubble remaining for regrowth, adequate rest time between cuttings, and fertile, well-drained soil. Unlike rhizomatous smooth brome, Hakari brome has an upright, tillering-type growth that works very well for dry hay with high forage quality.
  3.  Forage Triticale or Forage Oats – These cool season forages can be used when the need to spruce up a stand is detected early. These can be seeded at 30-50 lbs per acre early in the spring directly into existing alfalfa stand. The harvest of either of these forages with the alfalfa that remains allows for a summer annual such as forage sorghum or sorghum sudangrass to follow.
  4.  Teff– In stands where the alfalfa seems to be productive enough to get one cutting, teff can be a valuable option to sow. Teff is a summer annual cereal crop that has fine leaves and will dry well for hay. Teff can be harvested multiple times throughout the summer at boot stage when a four-inch stubble height is left for regrowth. The seed of teff is extremely small and the use of a good no-till drill into a firm seed bed is required for successful establishment (rolling after seeding is also preferred).
  5.  Full Renovation– When the status of your alfalfa stand calls for full renovation, take the first cutting, then utilize a summer annual crop. Using forage sorghum, sorghum sudangrass, or sudangrass planted in mid-May to mid-June will provide the most tonnage. Soil temperatures must be 65 degrees and rising for successful establishment of these forage crops. When selecting these, be sure to know what type of forage your farm needs. Forage sorghum will be most comparable to corn silage, whereas sorghum sudangrass and sudangrass will carry more protein and higher NDFd when harvested timely.

So, when it seems like the end is near for your alfalfa stand, but you need forage production for the season to come, take a look at these options to boost production!

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Evaluating Alfalfa Stands

It is important this coming spring to evaluate your alfalfa stands for density and health. When a thin stand is detected early, there is time to improve or renovate the stand. The following methodology comes from the University of Ohio Extension and can be applied throughout all alfalfa-growing regions.

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                Throughout the lifetime of your alfalfa, it is normal for thinning to occur. At the same time, older alfalfa plants tend to have more stems and produce more from one plant. As you are looking at your alfalfa stands, there are two ways to determine the health and density: number of plants per square foot or number of stems per square foot. For both of the following methods, sample at least 4-6 areas throughout the field.

Plants per Square Foot

  1. Count the number of plants per square foot in multiple areas throughout the field. For a stand that is 3 or more years old, there should be at least six plants in every square foot area you are checking.
  2. You also need to make sure those plants are healthy in order to determine if they will be productive to you. Take a look at the crown and root health. Roots cut open lengthwise should be white and firm, if they are discolored or seem soft, they are not healthy. A stand is considered healthy if fewer than 30% of observed roots show discoloration.
  3. Observe the crowns of existing plants. They should have shoots growing evenly around the grown that look strong and healthy.
  4. The stand will need improved or renovated if over 50% of the examined plants show any signs of root or crow rot including discoloration or weak growth.

Stems per Square Foot

  1. Allow for 6 inches of growth to occur this spring.
  2. In multiple areas throughout the field, count the number of stems present in a square foot area.
    1. 54+ healthy stems = stand should stay in production
    2. 40-54 healthy stems = stand should stay in production, but could have reduced yield without addition of grasses or other legumes
    3. Less than 40 healthy stems = stand should be interseeded into to produce adequate forage or should be renovated
    4. To determine a healthy stem, crown, and plant, use the same guidelines as the plants per square foot method.

Stay ahead of the game with your alfalfa stand and watch for recommendations from Beyond Agronomy on what to interseed into your stands!

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The Importance of Diversity

A note on diversity…

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       Diversity is key in many aspects of a farm including your pasture and forage blends. At PCS, we recommend various grass and legume species that are a great place to start when making decisions about your blends. You can also look at adding forbs in your blend. Depending on your operation and your harvest method, as much diversity as possible is best and can improve forage quality, soil health, and the overall ecosystem of your farm.

       By increasing diversity, the improvements to forage quality can be seen visually as well as through animal performance when grazing. Having a blend of different grasses, legumes and forbs provides livestock a salad bar style forage. These forage types will vary in levels of fiber and protein throughout the year. This allows livestock to receive a balanced ration from higher protein legumes and forbs while getting highly digestible fiber from grasses in the mix. Different plants also have the ability to pull up different minerals and compounds that livestock need.

       The underground livestock benefit from diversity as well. As much as the plants are unique above ground, their root systems provide various benefits below ground as well. Diverse rooting types means a mixture of thick fibrous roots, taproots, deep structures systems as well as dense, shallower roots. Why does this variety matter? Structurally, these roots systems hold your soils where you want it and create a sound base for your forages to grow. Soil biology benefits from the diversity because all plants release their own root exudates for biology to feed on and flourish.

Watch here for more about how to create diverse blends!

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Tips for Spring Cereals

Cool season annual forages can be used in many applications for feed or grain. Prairie Creek Seed annuals are designed specifically for forage harvested and fed to livestock. From hooded barley to a forage-specific oat, you can be assured that the yield and quality will achieve the highest level. Here are some tips for Spring cereal success:

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Seeding Rate:

Optimum seeding rates can vary depend upon species planted, planting date and if the cereal is being used as a companion crop with alfalfa.

  • Oats at 70 to 90 pounds/acre.
  • Barley at 80 to 100 pounds/acre.
  • Triticale at 100 pounds/acre.

Adjustments to these rates need to be made as follows:

  • Seed at the lower end of the range for early planting and the higher end of the range for late planting (after mid-May).
  • If alfalfa is under-seeded, lower the seeding rates by 30 percent to reduce competition with the legume.
  • When using a cereal grain pea blend, the forage seeding rate needs to be increased by 20 percent.
  • Strive for early planting (as soil conditions allow). Late planting for a forage harvest does remain an option; however, yields from late planting will be more dependent on temperature and moisture conditions.

Forage Examples:

               EverLeaf 126 forage oat is a true spring oat that provides high-quality forage and a lot of it. EverLeaf 126 has leaves that extend above the canopy at heading. It is also a delayed heading oat, and much of its forage mass and quality come from its extended maturity.

           Forage triticale from PCS will be awnless or awnletted for palatability if the forage is delayed in harvest. Dry-matter yield will be close to high-yielding forage oats and fit into an operation with a high level of management. Best harvest timing will result in a very high-quality forage. Triticale works well as a companion forage with forage barley or forage oats.

Focus on Forage. (2003). University of Wisconsin.

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Message from Winter Meetings

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           What is the verdict on last year? Prairie Creek Seed has been to and hosted dozens of meetings and conferences in the last few months and there has been a common theme: Wow, 2019 was rough. This holds true through dairy groups, beef groups, organic, non-organic, cover croppers, and grain farmers all around. Too much water was a main concern for a majority of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, but there were also drought issues in Illinois and Missouri in 2019. Since we have mostly been in the areas with too much moisture, we have seen the challenges that this has presented:         

Pastures -

           The general consensus of 2019 was that pasture productivity was low. Thanks to the excess moisture, most pastures were waterlogged for most of the season. What does this do underground? With water filling all pore spaces with nowhere to go, almost all of the air was locked out of pasture soils. This means soil biology and rooting ability was stalled for long periods of time. Pasture productivity perfectly mirrors this shut down soil activity.

Solution for 2020: Maintain grazing rotation to allow pasture species to fully recover and build their root systems that were suffocated last season. Also consider ways to get air back into your pasture soils. Aerators and pasture renovation coulters can be a useful tool in this situation. We do not need to till the ground, just start getting air down in there to reactivate the soil biology.

Cover Crops and Forages-

            What cover crops? That may be the response from those who were not able to seed fall cover crops last year. It is true that there are limitations in the fall for getting cover crops in the ground and being too wet and getting snow in October are great examples. For those who depend on cover crops as forages, this year was extra difficult. 

            Solution for 2020: Don’t stay down on yourself too long about not getting cover crops in. There can still be opportunities this spring for frost seeding or early spring cover crops to go into your rotation. On the forage side of things, utilizing a small grain in your rotation can be a risk management tool allowing a great time for a summer seeded forage to meet your livestock's needs when other forages are not producing like you need them to.

Messages Moving Forward -

            It is clear that farms have to build resilience to combat the weather extremes that have occured and the challenges that will continue to occur. How can we do this? Take a hard look at your rotation and where you can manage your risk better. Also consider diversifying your operation to give yourself flexibility and spread that risk.

           Prairie Creek Seed is optimistic about 2020 and we are looking forward to new chances for planting, grazing, and harvesting throughout the year. We are remaining only optimistic for the year to come!





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