Quality, price, nutrition benefits make alfalfa undervalued feed source Are dairymen missing a good opportunity to improve rations and protect herd health? Bran Harlan of Riverdale in Fresno County, Calif., believes many are. The California Alfalfa and Forage Association (CAFA) board member may be seen as having a bias, but he can analyze the situation from a nutritionist's standpoint.

A dairy nutritionist before returning to the family farm, Harlan maintains a firm belief in alfalfa hay and at least 15 pounds per cow per day. "With the type of quality and price of hay there should be that much in the dairyman's rations. This is speaking not as a grower," he stresses, "but nutritionally speaking."

He points out that "long stem, dry hay is very important to slow the rate of passage of both roughages and grains, which increases its utilization. It's also important as a `scratch factor' for stimulating salivary glands, therefore buffering the rumen again to increase feedstuff utilization, prevent acidosis and increase butterfat production.

"This is in addition to its nutrient composition; great protein source, calcium content, and energy content compared to oats, etc.," he continues. "Just go to the Midwest and you'll see what low hay rations do to cows. Essentially they burn them up. They can't put up the quality hay the way we do because of weather, so rations were commonly 10 pounds alfalfa hay when I was consulting. Fat cow syndrome with cows having extremely fatty livers, mid-lactation downer cows, etc., were common. Dairyman should be `selectively culling' their cows (production, cystic ovaries, hard breeders, etc.) not `mandatory culling' as low hay rations will cause."

`Excellent' standard He also voices concern about raising the standard on "excellent" hay by dairymen. "We had several cuttings that tested 55.5 percent TDN with proteins over 20.5 percent and dairymen didn't want it," he reports. "They wanted 57 percent or higher and were willing to pay to get it. Again, think of the health of the cow. Extremely high test hay won't slow the passage rate, you lower utilization of all feedtuffs and lower saliva production."

With grains so cheap, asks Harlan, "why buy 57 percent or higher hay?" To the former dairy nutritionist it makes more sense to "buy 54.5-56 percent TDN hay and change the composition of the grain mix i.e. higher percent of corn."