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Hay Production

The mission of the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance (NAFA) is to ensure the ability of the alfalfa and forage industry to compete effectively and profitably, both domestically and abroad, and a recent visit to Washington, D.C. aimed to do just that.
    Participants in the trip were Wyoming hay producer Dave Hinman of Wheatland and Powell alfalfa seed producer John Grover.
    “NAFA was created in 2006 because of the feeling that there was a void in advocacy for alfalfa and forage crops in D.C., and there was an obvious need for greater advocacy and visibility for alfalfa and forage crops among lawmakers in D.C.,” says NAFA Associate Director John Docktor. “Part of our mission is to become more visible, and to make sure we have a seat at the table when ag issues and the Farm Bill are discussed and debated.”
Research lags behind
    One of the main concerns of the group of U.S. alfalfa and forage growers is the $3 million allocation in the 2008 Farm Bill for research that was never distributed to the industry.
    “Alfalfa and forage crops represent the third most valuable crop in the country, following only corn and soybeans, yet for Fiscal Year 2012, USDA’s Agriculture Research Service had about $44 million for corn and $35 million for soybeans, while alfalfa only had about $3.7 million,” says Docktor, adding, “In research funding, alfalfa and forage crops fall behind smaller, more minor crops.”
    He says that small amount funding doesn’t address the real need for research in alfalfa and forage crops that private industry can’t afford to do alone.
Research priorities
    NAFA has identified the top areas of crucial research are improving yield, persistence, determining bioenergy potentials, determining new methods of harvest, storage and new uses.
    “We’re looking for the type of research we have with corn, as far as the traits that make it pest- and disease-resistant,” says Hinman. “We also want to make alfalfa hardier so that it comes back faster and doesn’t winter kill and is more drought resistant.”
    “There are a number of things on which we need research that aren’t being addressed in the current funding situation,” says Docktor. “Budgets are tight across the country, but there’s a disparity in funding for alfalfa and forage, and that’s what we’re trying to bring to the attention of lawmakers.”
    Grover says one of the most important research areas for his part of the industry is honey bees.
    “We’re interested in keeping the funding for the Logan Bee Lab and research on leaf cutter bees, which is highly important to our crop,” he says, adding that it’s also been quite some time since yields have improved, and that there’s always research to be done with chemicals and pesticides. “There’s no end to what we could use the research funding for.”
Farm Bill implications
    Regarding the $3 million allocation in the 2008 Farm Bill, Docktor says it’s important to maintain that allocation in the next Farm Bill.
    “We need to maintain that language, because it’s easier to get programmatic funding,” he notes. “Because alfalfa and forage research was contained in the last Farm Bill, we could obtain the funding without an earmark, and it would be the most viable means to obtain research funding.”
    “It’s important for us to get that message across, and get support in D.C.,” says Grover. “Even if we don’t get the funding from 2008, we want it for 2012.”
    Should the funding be allocated, Docktor says the first order of business would be to bring together forage researchers, industry partners and producers to a research summit that would establish research priorities. He says that only land grant universities and government agencies can grant the money, and that NAFA would be the facilitator.
    “After the research symposium, we’d send out the request for proposals, collect those proposals and put together a committee to determine which of them are high priority,” he explains.
Loss in the long-term
    “This is the first year that China will spend more on agricultural research than we do,” says Docktor. “That demonstrates our alarm, because it seems like cutting research is the easy solution, because the results are immediate. But, it takes four or five years to reap the benefits of research. In the short term we’re not losing anything, but where we realize the loss is in the long term, when we consider how far back it puts us.”
    Docktor says NAFA will continue to work to obtain the funding for alfalfa and forage research by keeping the lines of communication open with lawmakers.
    Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Roundup Ready gains ground
    As an organization, the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance (NAFA) is neutral in the biotech alfalfa debate, but they advocate for choices for alfalfa producers.
    “We want to make sure that farmers have the choice, and that’s why we supported the APHIS approval of Roundup Ready technology,” says NAFA Associate Director John Docktor. “We don’t care if producers use it or not, we just want to make sure they have access to the most recent and new technology.”
    Powell area alfalfa seed producer John Grover grew Roundup Ready alfalfa when it was first released, and he has been involved in the litigation regarding the varieties. Although it’s again released for commercial production, he says that a remaining lawsuit is attempting to use the Endangered Species Act against the crop.
    “Which is ridiculous,” says Grover, “because the only thing endangered are the weeds.”
    Grover plans to put in 160 acres of Roundup alfalfa this spring, and he hopes to completely transition to the biotech crop over time.
    Wheatland alfalfa producer Dave Hinman entered a Roundup Ready alfalfa variety in the Tulare Farm Show in California this year, and won third place with it.
    “You can keep every weed out, because you can spray it two or three times, and you get your production from less weed pressure,” says Hinman.
    Hinman says he’ll transition to Roundup Ready with his stands that are under flood irrigation, which brings weed seeds with the irrigation water, and he’ll leave his pivot-irrigated fields in conventional alfalfa, which is cheaper to purchase.
    Docktor notes that Roundup alfalfa can provide many benefits, especially with drought-tolerant varieties that have high water efficiency.
    “There’s a lot of promise with those varieties, so we want to make sure APHIS is using sound science to evaluate the new technologies and bring them to commercialization,” he continues.
    “We hear that many producers are taking advantage of and utilizing the new technologies, and that’s great if it works in their personal situations,” says Docktor.
    Grover says it’s only a matter of time before markets dictate the direction of new technologies, and he predicts it will move almost entirely to Roundup Ready.

During the last several years, scientists have studied ways for producers to feed their cattle while resting their pastures. Because of that research, plant breeders have developed more annual varieties of forages that are taller and can produce more tonnage than traditional varieties.

Many annuals are now available for grazing. 

Some of the most common cool season annuals are oats, spring triticale, spring barley, field peas, Italian or annual ryegrass, turnips, radishes and winter wheat or rye. 

Warm-season annuals like millet, S-S hybrids, sorghum, sudangrass, crabgrass, teff and corn are also popular choices. 

Moving beyond tradition

Where ranchers were once limited to traditional annuals like winter wheat, rye or triticale, they can now plant other annuals like field peas, turnips and radishes, according to University of Nebraska Range and Forage Specialist Jerry Volesky. 

“Annuals can be a good fit with a grazing program,” Volesky says, “but planning ahead of time is crucial.”

Some of the traditional annuals like winter wheat, rye and triticale are planted in September and grazed the following spring. 

“Triticale is the most productive of the winter annuals,” Volesky says. “It will average four to five tons per acre. Common winter rye averages 3.5 tons to the acre. If they are harvested at the soft dough stage, both can be high quality forages with good protein and total digestible nutrients (TDN).”

 Spring-seeded small grains, like field peas and oats, can be planted and grazed in the spring. Turnips and radishes can be planted and grazed in the fall or spring, Volesky adds. 

“Spring-seeded oats can produce three tons of dry matter yield,” Volesky says. “Other spring forages, with a late March or early April seeding date, shouldn’t be grazed until they are six to eight inches in height, which is generally around the third week of May.”


Volesky shares the different ways for animals to utilize the forage. 

“Grazing is not as efficient as haying these annuals,” he says. 

Grazing interrupts plant growth more than haying because haying takes place toward the end of the plant’s growing cycle. If a cow grazes off the growth point of an oat plant, any future growth of the tiller of that plant will be lost. 

Losses can also occur from trampling. 

One method becoming more popular is haying annuals, like millet, in the fall and leaving the hay in windrows for cattle to mob graze in late-winter or early spring. This requires a little more planning because producers will need to place electric fence around the perimeter of the field, unless the field has permanent fence. 

The producer will also have to build electric fence within the field that can be easily moved every day or two as the cattle graze out the windrows. 

Cool-season annuals, like oats and turnips, can be grazed after freeze-down or also by windrow grazing. 

Volesky researched utilizing windrow grazing during the summer with winter rye and showed the importance of harvesting the crop at the optimum maturity so the animals will utilize it efficiently in the windrows.

Producers who wish to use this method of grazing will need to determine the correct stocking rate, so they know how many windrows to give the cattle access to at one time.

“This can be a very efficient form of grazing if it is done properly,” Volesky said.


Producers are always concerned about stocking density, especially when grazing annuals. Volesky said he likes to use an animal unit (AU) concept, based on one animal unit is equivalent to a 1,000 pound animal, and one AU month (AUM) as equivalent to 780 pounds of forage. This is based on 30 days in a month where 26 pounds of forage is consumed per day. A cow/calf pair is considered 1.5 AU, and a weaned calf weighing 500 pounds is considered 0.5 AU. 

When working with annuals, it is important to consider grazing efficiency. 

“A rule of thumb is 1.3 AUMs are available per ton of potential forage,” he says, assuming 50 percent grazing efficiency


The most important factor Volesky has garnered from his research is that producers need to plan ahead if additional grazing will be needed. The plants will need adequate time to grow to the appropriate stage or height before they are grazed, he says. 

Producers should also consider planting different types of annuals that can be rotationally grazed and to stagger the planting dates of warm season annuals to prevent them from growing too rapidly before they can be grazed. 

“Producers will want to start grazing these annuals at a younger stage of growth or at a shorter height,” he explains. “Animals can be added as needed depending upon the growth of the forage.” 

Producers should have a backup pasture in case plants are consumed quicker than expected or the stocking rate doesn’t work out as planned, he says. 

Volesky adds, “It is important to have something to fall back on.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

The Guinness Book of World Records title for the most hay mowed in an eight-hour period is now proudly held in the United States. Tate Mesbergen of Mesbergen Farms in Greeley, Colo. says planning, speed and luck figured into his ability to break the record July 1, which was previously held by Samasz, an overseas manufacturer of triple mowers. 

Breaking the record was just a normal day for Mesbergen. 

“I usually average about 250 acres a day when I really get after it,” he explains. “We harvested 348.667 acres in eight hours to beat the current record. After that, it took 1.5 days to catch up with the chopper.”

“We even had to have my brother-in-law come in and run a chopper, so it wouldn’t get too dry,” he explains. 

Most of the high-quality alfalfa hay harvested by the family is sold to local dairies.

His partners in the competition were a Claas 880 tractor, Claas Disco 1100 roller conditioner and a Claas 980 forage harvester. Claas supplied a Claas 850 tractor and Claas linear rake. The Claas line of triple mowers is a competitor of Samasz.

Taking the record

Officially, Tate beat the previous record by about 106 acres. 

“We are really proud of Tate,” says John Schofield, who is the North American Marketing coordinator for Claas. “He does a really good job with the triple disc mower. It was quite an accomplishment to beat that record by the margin he did.”

Claas has supported Tate in this endeavor from the beginning, Schofield says. 

“Tate is the person on the farm who runs the disc mower and said he could beat that record. He thought about it awhile, and then, it came up again in some conversations during meetings with Katrina Claas, who is the president of the company. She told us to go for it,” Schofield explains. “So, we went ahead and put together the documentation needed for a Guinness World Record.”

Contest day

Not everything went smoothly during the contest, Mesbergen says. Some early morning rain delayed his start from 9 a.m. to noon. Then, in the very first field, he struck a chunk of concrete. 

“I had to get out and make sure the cutters or the cutter bar wasn’t damaged,” he says. “Fortunately, it was all okay.”

The final challenge was a 17.5 minute move eight miles from the third field to the fourth. By the time he got to the final field and saw the time on the clock, Tate knew the record was in the bag. 

“When I selected fields for this competition, I went with the closest and largest fields possible. The first three were half-a-mile apart,” he says. 

The first field was 40 acres, while fields two and three were a combined 200 acres, and the fourth field was 150 acres. 

“We didn’t finish that one because we ran out of time,” Tate says. 

The record was verified by six officials, who served as witnesses. 

“We also had to have paperwork filed and filming on record,” Mesbergen says. 

Nearly 50 spectators also turned up throughout the day to watch Tate break the record. 

When the time was up, Tate was showered with champagne as he climbed down from the tractor. Afterward, they finished the documentation, handed out T-shirts and had a party. 

Guinness Book

Although a Guinness Book of World Records doesn’t come with much more than bragging rights, for Tate that is enough. 

“It was just pretty close to a normal day for me. I usually just cut in the morning until about noon. I take a break and drive the truck, so the hay doesn’t dry out too fast. Then, I cut again in the afternoon to finish out the day. With the triple mower, it dries so fast we have a hard time keeping up with the chopper. I have to take a little break, so it doesn’t get too dry on us,” Tate says.

The prior world record set by Samasz was done with a triple mower that didn’t have a conditioner, Schofield says. 

“Tate’s mower has a conditioner, which makes it even more challenging. Samasz harvested a type of switchgrass, while the Mesbergen’s harvested alfalfa, which is heavier, thicker and tougher to cut,” Schofield says. “But, the Mesbergen’s really smashed it. They harvested about 43 acres an hour, which was really good.” 

He continues, “The triple mower is a little over 35 feet in width. It is just really rock solid. Tate also manually steered based on feel. He did it without GPS.”

The operation

Tate is in partnership with his father Harvey, who started Mesbergen Farms 22 years ago, and brother Troy, who have a custom corn silage and forage harvesting business. During the contest, he had lots of help and support from his family. His wife Carly rakes or merges behind the mower. Harvey drives the chopper, and Troy drives the truck.

“I am very thankful to the farmers who let us use their fields for this record,” Tate expresses his appreciation.

The farms are owned by Dave Uhrich, Ken and Jamie Starman and Fagerberg Farms.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Riverton — Wyoming hay producers are being cautioned to check their fields for blister beetles and adopt management practices to minimize the number of insects present in hay harvests.
    Following a report of blister beetles early August, Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan says specimens of the insects were taken to the Fremont County Weed and Pest and the University of Wyoming for verification. The individual who reported the insects slapped one on his neck and the area blistered before he returned to the house.
    While Logan says it’s the first time he’s dealt with the insect in his capacity as a practitioner, he has seen horses die after consuming the insect. In his experience he says he hasn’t seen cattle or sheep affected by the insect, but knows of fellow practitioners who’ve witnessed such losses.
    University of Wyoming Extension Entomologist Scott Schell says the insects have also been confirmed in the Sheridan area. A native species, the insect’s populations vary and may be high as a result of Wyoming’s higher than usual grasshopper population.
    As Schell explains of the Epicauta pennsylvania species of the beetle confirmed in the Sheridan area, adult beetles lay their eggs on the ground. The first instar of the young insect is quite mobile and finds a grasshopper egg pod to feed on over the winter months. Adults emerge the following year as early as June and as late as September.
    “Adults feed on flowers,” says Schell. “They’ll also swarm on flowers for mating so you’ll often see two beetles coupled together on the flowers. Some of the worst places for them are those corners that didn’t get cut and the alfalfa goes into full bloom, or a little missed edge.”
    “When you swath hay,” says Schell, “the conditioner is designed to crush the stem. It can also crush beetles into the windrow.  The beetles are baled right into the hay and that’s how livestock get poisoned by it. In the old days when people cut hay with a sickle blade, beetles wouldn’t be killed and they’d fly off before the hay was put up.”
    Schell says, “In some areas where they are a big problem, and they supply the horse hay market, ranchers will do things like take their hay conditioners off.”
    On the bright side Schell says, “According to the research it takes a lot of blister beetles to kill a horse. The black blister beetle most commonly found in Wyoming rarely swarms in such numerous masses.” A table within this article details the toxicity levels of the different species.
    With that said, risk of poisoning as a result of the insects is a serious issue. “When a horse gets blister beetle poisoning,” says Logan, “the symptoms are rapid and extreme.” Logan says, “Depending on the species of the beetle, the amount required to sicken or kill a horse can be a very small amount.”
    Schell says, “ Blistering in the horse’s mouth and blood in the urine are diagnostic symptoms of blister beetle poisoning.  All hay should be inspected for foreign objects, dead animals, or mold before being fed to your horse.”
     He further adds, “Certified hay is only certified to be free of noxious weeds not blister beetles.  Buying hay from a cutting of alfalfa made when it is not in bloom is a good approach to minimize risk to your horses.”
    For those looking to purchase horse hay Schell advises, “They need to talk to the supplier or the farmer or rancher producing the hay. Make sure they are aware of the dangers of blister beetles. Ask what precautions they take and if they harvest their hay before the alfalfa is in full bloom.” He says the beetles tend to be less of an issue in those areas, like Torrington, where growers aim for high protien alfalfa that’s most often cut before full bloom. In areas less conducive to alfalfa production, where a grower may be seeking tonnage the alfalfa may be cut in full bloom, when the insects are of greater concern.
    Control isn’t really a feasible option according to Schell. “They are a native species and they do a service in that they help us suppress grasshopper populations.” He says the best approach is management to reduce risk. Looking toward 2010, given the current abundance of grasshoppers, Schell anticipates a higher population of the beetles.
    Additional information on the beetles can be found online at and at Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As ranchers head into late winter, several are noticing a significant drop in their feed pile as a result of recent cold spells. If the current weather trends continue into spring many producers will need to purchase additional feed to maintain their cattle.
“Management has been altered to reduce winter feeding as much as possible and this year snuck up on us,” comments UW Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley.  He adds that, to date, he hasn’t heard of any problems, but everyone is feeding more than they want and are starting to look at their hay pile, wondering how severe the remainder of winter is going to be.
“Everyone has hay now, but if this continues through late March it will be tough,” say Paisley.
According to Paisley, cattle require a one percent increase in feed for every one-degree drop in temperature below 20 degrees. This is assuming livestock have a heavy winter coat and are in adequate condition.
If the temperature with wind chill is negative 10 degrees, cows require 30 percent more feed to maintain a constant weight than they do when the temperature is over 20 degrees. When this amount is combined with the 25 to 30 percent increase in energy requirements during late gestation, it’s easy to see why so many hay piles are rapidly disappearing.
While cattle will increase intake as temperatures drop, Paisley notes that they hit a point where they just hump up and kind of stop eating.  
If ranchers aren’t covered by snow and cattle have access to winter range or stalks, supplementing is an easy thing to aid cattle in increasing consumption.
“In a lot of cases the cheapest thing is to locate some alfalfa hay and we’re lucky that most of the state put up a lot of hay this year. There is hay available and people are starting to buy and feed it,” says Paisley.
Some ranchers may let their cattle slide until spring, which is something to which Paisley strongly objects. He explains that it takes a lot more feed and effort to bring a cow back up to an acceptable body condition than to simply maintain her at that level.
After a cow calves her energy requirements jump another 30 to 35 percent through the peak of lactation. If a rancher attempts to bring her back up to a more acceptable condition at that point and the weather is uncooperative it could result in an even greater supplemental feed increase or she may not breed back.
Paisley explains that data indicates thin cows are slower getting up after calving and calves consume less colostrum on average than those out of well maintained cows. He adds that it is also suggested the strength of the calf is compromised if cows get too thin during gestation.
An increase in feed consumption generally results in a higher break even on cattle and that is what feeders are dealing with during the cold spells. Extension Education and Livestock Marketing Specialist Bridger Feuz explains that while the market hasn’t been impacted by recent weather trends, it is effecting the break even as cattle increase intake.
“Typically severe storms can affect markets as they may alter the projected finish date of cattle. However, cold weather does not necessarily impact performance of cattle on feed,” states Bridger.
Cattle will require more energy to maintain body levels in a feedlot as on the range. The difference is that feedlots typically have large amounts of feed readily available and can easily adjust rations to offset weather conditions.
As producers head into the second half of winter it is important to be prepared for more unexpected cold snaps and have a means meeting energy requirements available. Compare prices on different supplements and keep in mind that it is almost always easier to maintain cattle than to bring them back up to an acceptable condition, experts advise.
For more information on this topic see the Guest Opinion on Page 2 of this edition. Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.