Timing Is Key to Exceptional Alfalfa Quality

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Timing Is Key to Exceptional Alfalfa Quality

Sep 06 2016 by Chaffhaye

Harvesting forage at the optimal stage of plant maturity is the most important factor in achieving exceptional forage quality. Unfortunately, many growers can become overly concerned with maximizing crop yields to the detriment of maintaining exceptional forage quality. There exists a trade-off between achieving exceptional forage quality and maximizing crop yield. As legume plants mature from the vegetative stage to the reproductive state in their life cycle, fiber concentration increases and forage quality decreases. Research conclusively shows that overall nutrition is maximized when alfalfa enters early flower stage. This is because as plants mature, lignin, an indigestible component of the plant increases rapidly relative to leaf matter. When pasture is not harvested at the precise time, a corresponding decrease in digestibility and palatability for the animal can result. In the case of alfalfa, for example, the crop can lose about 15% of its energy value and 33% of its protein in only a 2-week period of plant growth.

The combination of lower quality nutrition and lower palatability can result in dramatic decreases in animal performance. This not only reduces feed intake by the animal but forces the hay buyer to supplement the forage with costly additives or high-energy grains to meet the nutrient requirements of the animal. This can be both costly and introduce new health risks to the animal.

In contrast to baled hay and direct-cut silage, Chaffhaye is harvested at optimal plant moisture to minimize the harvesting and storage losses (see Figure 1).

After cutting the crop, Chaffhaye’s approach to forage preservation is one that minimizes forage respiration by limiting the drying time to hours after cutting. This short drying window also substantially lowers the risk of damaging rainfall during the drying process. More importantly, leaf loss is all but eliminated because the plant still has a soft texture, not brittle like hay. To minimize nutrient losses from storage conditions, Chaffhaye is vacuum sealed in an airtight package to eliminate damage from oxygen. This initiates a cool lactic acid fermentation that preserves forage quality and blocks the growth of mold or harmful bacteria.

The keys to producing the best Chaffhaye possible is starting with supreme quality forage and then achieving an exceptional fermentation to preserve the quality. Chaffhaye is continually tested by an independent laboratory to verify not only nutritional content but also to verify the quality of the fermentation process. The quality of the fermentation is determined through an analysis of the various acids produced and the pH achieved.