Alfalfa hay is one of the most nutritious foods you can offer your horses. However, poor practices can affect the quality and nutritional value of these plants. To make sure you get top quality alfalfa hay, you will have to harvest the plants at the right time and store them appropriately. There are several ways of determining the right time to harvest alfalfa plants, and these will be covered in this text. At the same time, you will need to make sure you store your hay at the right moisture level and with the right amount of air circulation.
Top 7 Alfalfa Hay Tips and Tricks for the Best Equine Nutrition
1. Cut It as Soon as You See the First Bloom
The yield and quality of your alfalfa cannot be increased after harvesting. In other words, there is nothing you can do to improve the nutritional value of your alfalfa hay after harvesting. For this reason, you need to make sure you cut your alfalfa at the correct time.
After the first flower shows, the growth of the alfalfa plants will mainly involve the stem. These parts are usually useless to horses and are even set aside by the pets themselves. Another way of telling when to harvest is by checking the height of the alfalfa plants. Since you are growing the hay for horses, the best height for harvesting is 32 inches. This is slightly beyond the bud stage.
2. Check Your Calendar
You can also determine the best harvesting time by checking your calendar. Usually, the first alfalfa stands will attain maximum height around May 20th. This happens in most years but is not consistent. However, beyond the said date, the consecutive alfalfa stands will mature consistently every 28 days.
This period can change if you are using low-lignin alfalfa, a strand that is genetically modified. For this, the timeline can change to 35 days.
3. If Possible, Store It Indoors
Storing your alfalfa will greatly affect its quality. As mentioned before, the quality of alfalfa is highest at harvesting time. If you intend to use it as hay, you can maintain the quality with negligible loss in nutritional value by storing it correctly.
Ideally, the bales should be stored in a well-drained building that has controlled moisture and air circulation. Using a building will also protect your product from getting bleached by the sun. Too much sunlight makes the plant lose its protein and vitamin A content.
If you don’t have enough room for indoor storage, you should consider covering the alfalfa with a tarp. This will help to block off sunlight and other elements in the environment.
4. Allow for Sufficient Air Circulation
Giving the bales enough breathing space will prevent discoloration. This can be achieved by allowing some space between the bales. Also, you need to store your alfalfa in a well-ventilated room or building. In such cases, you will have to store the top bale about 2 feet under the roof of the building. If the moisture levels rise beyond the stipulated levels, you might also need to add preservatives to your bales as this might affect their breathing. In the same vein, if the alfalfa were baled while damp, you will need to use preservatives.
5. Store The Bags at a Moisture of Less Than 20 Percent
The actual moisture range is usually dependent on the location. When harvested, the moisture content usually ranges from 55 to 65 percent. However, for storage in bales, alfalfa will have to be stored at under 20 percent moisture. This is meant to prevent molding and excessive heating, both of which will severely affect the quality of the alfalfa. Also, moisture affects the air circulation in the alfalfa bales, and this, in turn, affects the overall quality of the harvest.
For larger bales, the moisture levels should be maintained at below 16 percent. High moisture levels in large bales can result in excessive heating.
6. Use Preservatives If Moisture Levels are High
Alfalfa can be stored at moisture levels of up to 35 percent, although this will require the use of a preservative. That being said, some preservatives will not be useful if the moisture levels are that high.
To measure the moisture level, you can use an electronic forage moisture meter. The readings may vary between the bales. If they deviate by more than 3 percent, you will need to take more readings and find the average. That will be the moisture level of your alfalfa hay.
7. Use the Rule-of-Thumb to Determine the Best Time to Bale
The moisture content of your alfalfa will determine whether or not they are ready to be bailed. Usually, this is determined using a moisture meter. However, this is not available to every farmer. If you don’t have access to such equipment, you can simply use the traditional rule-of-thumb.
This is done by reaching the bottom of the window and taking some of the hay. Twist it and feel its brittleness. The hay should have some level of free moisture. If it is too dry, you should consider leaving it to absorb some moisture from the environment, ideally in the early morning or late evening.
Also, you should try and scrape the epidermis of the leaves. If they can peel off, they are too moist to be baled.
With these tips and tricks, you will be able to prepare top-quality alfalfa hay. Remember to harvest the plants at the right time and store them at the proper moisture level. Also, store your alfalfa in a well-ventilated room. If you can’t store them indoors, try to improvise a shelter with controlled air circulation and moisture.
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