This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Photo credit to Agriculture Agri-Food Canada
Forage legumes provide high yields, protein, and good animal performance while improving soil fertility by fixing nitrogen from the air. Alfalfa is the highest yielding and most widely-used legume but can cause bloat. Legumes like cicer milkvetch, sainfoin and birdsfoot trefoil do not cause bloat. As little as 25% sainfoin in a pasture can virtually eliminate the risk of bloat even if the other 75% is alfalfa.
The problem is that older sainfoin varieties don’t regrow as fast as alfalfa after grazing. Alfalfa’s aggressive nature allows it to outcompete sainfoin for sunlight, moisture and nutrients. Without careful grazing management, sainfoin can disappear from a pasture in a few years. This might be because plant breeders have traditionally selected new varieties for clipped forage yield under monoculture conditions. This doesn’t reflect the challenges sainfoin faces when grown with alfalfa and grazed.
Surya Acharya at AAFC Lethbridge has been breeding sainfoin that regrows more rapidly after grazing and persists longer in mixtures with alfalfa. New varieties (e.g. Mountainview and Glenview) have already been released, but there are more in the pipeline. An update on these ongoing efforts was published in 2017 (Performance of Mixed Alfalfa-Sainfoin Pastures and Grazing Steers in Western Canada, Professional Animal Scientist 33:472). Continue reading
Editor’s note: The following is part 2 of two-part series. See part 1.
Photo supplied by Ryan Boyd
The secret — if it is a secret — to pasturing cattle on alfalfa is to follow a few simple management steps to reduce the risk of bloat, say producers from across the country, who for years claim good success by including the forage legume in pasture mixes.
Straight alfalfa stands can be managed quite well, but most producers today are favouring alfalfa/grass forage blends. They are very productive, produce excellent rates of gain on cattle, help to reduce the bloat risk, and also provide important biodiversity. Biodiversity benefits the cattle in providing a range of crops that mature at different times and can handle varying growing conditions, as well as biodiversity to benefit soil health.
The main “not to do” message is don’t turn somewhat hungry cattle into a pre-bloom high percentage stand of alfalfa and leave them to selectively graze the lush leaves. If there is a heavy dew or rain as well, it creates a perfect storm for bloat.
The key “to do” messages include making sure cattle move onto alfalfa pastures with a full gut and the forage stand is dry. Introduce them to lusher forage gradually by limiting the amount of area they have access to in a day, and force them to eat the whole plant including stems and not just leaves. Other “to do” strategies that some producers use — supply a bloat-control agent in cattle drinking water, make some dry hay available as well, as the fibre in hay reduces the risk of gas build up in the rumen, and include low-bloat forage legumes such as sainfoin in the pasture mix.
It is important to apply some basic management principles to capitalize on the benefits of having alfalfa in a grazing program. As grazing research summarized in Part 1 has confirmed over the years, not including alfalfa in pasture mixes can be like leaving money on the table.
Here is what producers from across the country had to say about how alfalfa is managed in their grazing programs: Continue reading
High protein forage can increase rates of gain, benefit soil
Editor’s note: The following is part 1 of a two-part series. Stay tuned for alfalfa grazing tips from cattle producers from across the country in part 2.
Respect it, but don’t fear it. That’s the message from cattle producers and beef specialists alike who through years of experience and research appreciate the value of grazing cattle on pure or percentage stands of alfalfa.
Properly managed alfalfa makes good pasture with several added benefits, including:
- Improved weight gains on all classes of cattle (gains of 1.5 to 2 or more pounds per day can be expected);
- adding fertility to the soil with a nitrogen-fixing crop;
- creating a hedge against poor forage production during dryer growing seasons; and
- increasing plant biodiversity to benefit soil health.
Yes, there are circumstances when turning cattle into a lush stand of alfalfa at the wrong time and perhaps with the wrong class of cattle can result in bloat. But paying attention to a few production and management principles can greatly reduce the risk of bloat and provide producers the opportunity to capture the benefits. Continue reading
Cattle that consume forages with higher sugar content have higher rates of gain, improved performance and better rumen health.
In a past BCRC webinar, Gilles Bélanger, PhD, a Research Scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Robert Berthiaume, PhD, a dairy production expert in forage systems at Valacta, offered the following tips for producers to increase the sugar content in their forages:
Cut forages in late afternoon
As the day progresses, the plant increases in sugar content and is at its highest levels between 11 and 13 hours after sunrise (late afternoon). This benefit is maintained after cutting. Although swathing reduces the sugar content, it will remain higher in forages that were cut in late afternoon as compared to those cut in the morning. Learn more from the webinar recording: 9:05 -19:56.)
Choose forage species with naturally higher sugar concentrations
In addition to management Continue reading
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Background: Numerous studies have shown that maintaining 40% alfalfa in a forage stand is the most economical way of improving soil fertility, forage yields and animal grazing performance. Unfortunately, alfalfa drops below the 40% threshold level after several years of grazing.
Alfalfa drops out of perennial pastures partly due to Continue reading