Grazing a pasture with alfalfa

Asked October 18, 2019, 1:34 PM EDT

Hello, thanks for taking the time to read my questions. One year ago we bought our small homestead in Sidney, MI. We have two pastures, east and west of our house, both roughly 3 acres each. The previous owner planted an alfalfa, Timothy and brome mix for hay for her horses. Here on the farm now, we have two Scottish blackface sheep and two highland heifer calves (6months) that we have been grazing in small paddocks rotationally on one of those fields a few hours a day in the afternoons. Now that we're heading into the fall and soon winter, should I keep the animals off the field completely because of the frosts in the morning? Or can they go out after it dries up? Can I put them back on after the ground freezes? Will the pasture make for a good winter forage or is there still risk, even after the alfalfa is frozen of bloat? My plan is/was to graze the pasture heavy this fall early winter, then frost seed birdsfoot trefoil in late winter. Does this sound like a good plan? We really want to phase out the alfalfa, or at least offer a legume to help. It would be ideal to leave the animals out and graze without puling them in before a rain, or waiting for dew to dry up. Lastly, when someone asks us how much alfalfa we have in our pasture, is there an accurate way to measure that, or is it basically a guesstimate?

Montcalm County Michigan

3 Responses

You can still graze as you are currently. If the alfalfa is over 35% of the forage mix, bloat risk will increase especially as we get below 28 degrees. The % alfalfa is a hard to judge without actually harvesting and weighing the alfalfa and grass portions. Use your best judgement. Once we have a hard frost, the plants will go dormant. Wait 5-7 days and you can graze the residue that remains this fall. Try not to punch-up wet pasture with hoof traffic once plants stop growing.
I see not problem with grazing wet forage as long as animals are acclimated to that feed source and a killing frost has not occurred within 7 days.
Heavy grazing this fall will help the frost seeding success next spring. Trefoil will work on heavy wet soils but not so much on sandy well drained soils.

Thank you for the reply. I’ve never frost seeded before. Do you have any tips or instructions on most effective way to frost seed? When is best? Do I sow once snow has melted, and ground exposed? Should I inoculate? Thanks...

MSU Extension has a s a nice article on frost seeding that will help with your potential success. If you have not planted inoculated legumes like clover, trefoil or alfalfa in the past, I would recommend inoculating the seed before planting. Here is the link:
https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/march_is_frost_seeding_month_in_michigan
Kevin