Alfalfa Grass Mixtures in Dairy Rations
by Dan Undersander
Benefits of mixing grass with alfalfa:
- 30 to 40% grass mixed with alfalfa gives equal or higher yields than pure stands of alfalfa
- Improved yield in seeding year.
- Better yield in later years if alfalfa injured by winter, insects, disease.
- Alfalfa grass mixtures provide stand and yield over broader range of environmental conditions.
- Grass remains in low spots were water stands.
- Grass may not suffer winterkill.
- Suffer less traffic damage and tolerate manure application better.
- If grass grows in later part of season, may widen harvest window.
- 30% grass mixed with alfalfa dries faster than pure alfalfa.
- Alfalfa-grass mixtures provide greater erosion control than pure alfalfa stands.
- Alfalfa-grass mixtures produce more palatable haylage than pure alfalfa.
- Adding some grass to alfalfa stands may benefit the dairy ration by lowering NFC because grass has less NFC.
- Higher total fiber with grass/legume mixtures but faster rate of digestion of grass NDF.
- Reduce lameness associated with too much nonfiberous carbohydrate (NFC). 20 to 20% of milking cows are mildly to seriously lame in Midwest United States (Cook, Oetzel and Nordlund, 2003). This results in increased veterinary bills and reduces milk production (see table). Causes: 58% due to disease or trauma, 42% due to nutrition (excessive grain and/or inadequate fiber).
- Faster grass fiber digestion may allow increased NDF in ration without reducing intake or milk production.
- Possible good fit with high NFC diets (i.e. high corn silage diets).