See the lovely, healthy little alfalfa plants in our field? You can also spot blades of orchard grass here and there.
In a previous entry, I mentioned that it cost over $400 for seed and fertilizer for under five acres of alfalfa. That's expensive if the crop doesn't make it, for instance if it hadn't rained after we planted. But thank the good Lord it did rain. Now if we get the spring rains next year, we should be set.
The wonderful thing about alfalfa is that we'll get, in a good year, four cuttings of hay. Probably over 300 bales the first cutting and more than 200 even on the final cutting of the year. Alfalfa hay is selling hereabouts for no less than $3 a small square bale, and I've seen people asking $4. If you do the math, you'll see that the first cutting would pay for the costs of planting.
But it doesn't stop there: An alfalfa planting is usually good for at least four years, although each year the yield is a little less.
Alfalfa is a legume, so it actually enriches the soil with nitrogen. The roots go down more than 15 feet into the earth.
The first cutting of the year is often diminished by damage caused by the pesky alfalfa weevil. "Real" farmers spray for these pests. Cliff just watches closely, and when it looks like the pesky little varmints are going to take the whole crop, he goes ahead and cuts and bales the hay. For some reason the bugs don't bother the crop the rest of the year.
When the crop has dwindled to the point there isn't enough hay to be worth the effort (usually four years, for us) you cannot plant more alfalfa in that field. "Alfalfa is one of the few plants that exhibit autotoxicity. Alfalfa seed will not grow in existing stands of alfalfa because of this. Therefore, alfalfa fields must be plowed down or rotated before reseeding." (That's from Wikipedia.)
While alfalfa hay is the best thing you can feed cattle, you can't turn them in and let them graze it in the field, unless you limit their time there. Cows bloat on legumes (I've called the vet more than once for a bloated cow). Horses would founder, given free grazing rights to alfalfa; and even the amount of cured alfalfa hay fed to horses has to be limited. The horse I used to have had been foundered, and if you gave him alfalfa hay, he'd start limping within hours of his meal.
Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about our hay crop.