BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Bryce Larson-President, Cleveland; Mike Mleziva-Vice President, New Franken; Dan Undersander-Exec Secretary-Treasurer, Madison; Ken Barnett Wausau; Bob Bosold Eau Claire; Mike Costello Malone; Robert Eder New London; Joe Holschbach Manitowoc; Bill Kautz Madison; Greg Kerr River Falls; Doug Mueller Fall Creek; Mahlon Peterson Altoona; Patrick Sturz Eau Claire; Ex-officio: Dennis Cosgrove River Falls and Keith Kelling Madison.




Welcome to the Spring 1997 issue of The Forager. Spring should be in full swing as you receive this. Now is the time to see how alfalfa fields made it through the winter and to await green-up. It will be a welcome site to see our forage fields return to production as we have been faced with high hay prices most of the winter. Prices have reached $160.00 to $200.00 per ton depending on quality and location. About 20 percent of our farmers in Wisconsin have experienced a shortage this winter. Extensive ice sheeting in the west may mean higher prices next winter as well. This means there is good reason to concentrate our efforts on high yields of good quality forage from our own fields.


The WFC Symposium was a success. There was a good program and everyone that attended came away with something of value. Proceedings from the meeting are available to members for $10.00 and to non-members for $25.00. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the Proceedings, please send a check along with your name and address to Wisconsin Forage Council, 813 W. Lexington Pkwy, DeForest, WI, or contact Shelly Minick at the WFC office (608-846-1825).


The WFC Forage Expo is on tap for June 25 and 26 near Manawa in Waupaca county. We have a good program planned and the Waupaca County Forage Council is doing a good job in organizing a top-notch event. See page 7 for details.


Page 2 Thenius Wins WFC Spokesperson Contest
Pages 2 & 3 Diagnosing and Managing Winter Injury
Page 4 Plateau Herbicide Available for Warm Season Grass Establishment
Page 4 Berseem Clover
Pages 5 & 6 Balage
Page 6 Heaving in Alfalfa Fields
Page 7 Stand Assessment Kits Available




Carl Thenius of Wrightstown, WI was the winner of the third annual WFC Forage Spokesperson Contest held January 28 in Wisconsin Dells, WI. Carl received a $1000.00 first prize and will compete in the American Forage and Grassland Council National Forage Spokesperson Contest in Fort Worth, Texas March 13, 1997. The second place winner was Dan Natzke from Wayside, WI. Sponsors of this year’s contest were Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. and Cenex Land O’ Lakes. We appreciate their assistance with this important WFC program. Good luck to Carl as he represents Wisconsin in Fort Worth.

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Winter injury occurs someplace in Wisconsin every year. Being able to diagnose and manage winter damaged stands may help prolong stand life and increase production. Below is a brief discussion on diagnosing and managing winter damaged alfalfa.


Diagnosing Winter Injury


Slow Green Up


One of the most evident results of winter injury is that stands are slow to green up. If other fields in the area are starting to grow and yours are still brown, it is time to check those stands for injury.


Asymmetrical Growth


Buds for spring growth are formed during the previous fall. If parts of an alfalfa root are killed and others are not, only the living portion of the crown will give rise to new shoots resulting in a crown with shoots on only one side or asymmetrical growth.


Uneven Growth


During winter, some buds on a plant crown may be killed and others may not. The uninjured buds will start growth early while the injured buds must be replaced by new buds formed in spring. This will result in shoots of different height on the same plant, with the shoots from buds formed in spring several inches shorter than the shoots arising from fall buds.


Root Problems


Probably the best way to diagnose winter injury is by digging up plants and examining roots. Healthy roots should be firm and white in color with little evidence of root rot. Winter injured roots have a gray, water soaked appearance and/or a brown discoloration due to root rot. If the root is soft and water can be easily squeezed from the root, it is most likely winter killed. If the root is firm but showing signs of rot, it may still produce depending on the extent of injury. If over 50 percent of the root is damaged, the plant will most likely die that year. If less than 50 percent is injured, the plant will likely survive for one or maybe two years depending on management and subsequent winter. Table 1 may be helpful in determining the likelihood for survival into the next season. See UW Ext. Pub. 3620 for more details on evaluating root health.


Table 1. 


Healthy Excellent
Some Discoloration Excellent
Moderate Discoloration Good
Significant Discoloration Good/Mild Winter 

Poor/Hard Winter

> 50% Discoloration Poor
Dead ------

Managing Winter Injured Stands


Winter injured stands require different management than healthy stands if they are to stay in production for one or more seasons. If winter injury is evident, consider the follow:


Allow plants to mature longer before cutting.


Allowing plants to mature to early-, mid- or even full-bloom will help the plants restore needed carbohydrates for subsequent production. How long and during which cutting depends on the extent of winter injury. For severely injured stands, allow plants to go to nearly full-bloom in first cut and to early flower in subsequent cuttings. This will gives these stands the best chance at survival. Stands with less injury could be harvested somewhat earlier depending on the extent of the injury. Stands with only mild injury could be allowed to get to 10 to 25 percent bloom at sometime during the season. It may be best to choose second or third cutting with these stands.


Increase cutting height.


This is particularly important when allowing plants to flower before cutting. At this time, new shoots may be developing at the base of the plants. It is important to not remove these shoots as it will further weaken the plant to have to produced new ones.




It is particularly important that winter injured stands have adequate fertility. Soil test and apply needed fertilizer prior to first cutting if possible.


Control Weeds


Herbicide applications to control weed competition will help the stand by eliminating weeds which compete for moisture, light and nutrients.


No Late Cutting


Do not cut winter injured stands after September 1st to allow for the buildup of food reserves prior to winter.


Dennis Cosgrove, UW-River Falls

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One of the drawbacks of seeding warm season grasses such as switchgrass, indiangrass and big and little bluestem to supplement midsummer grazing has been slow establishment. Weeds are a particular problem as these grasses are very slow growing and not competitive with many weeds. Weed control has been a difficult challenge.


American Cyanamid is currently marketing Plateau herbicide for use on warm season grasses. Plateau is in the same chemical family as Pursuit and possesses many of the same characteristics. This product may be applied as a pre- or post-emergence treatment during the establishment year and controls many broadleaf and grass weeds. Research has shown most of the warm season grasses to be quite tolerant; however, switch grass may be damaged. The likelihood of injury depends on rates and timing. Plateau also has selectivity for many wildflowers so may be safe to use in prairie renovation projects.


The introduction of Plateau herbicide could be a real breakthrough in warm season grass establishment and use in Wisconsin. For more information contact your local Cyanamid dealer.


Dennis Cosgrove, UW - River Falls

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We have had several requests about use of berseem clover. This is an annual clover that grows rapidly and may be considered for forage in the current year and as a green manure. It should not be considered as a cover crop for alfalfa. The berseem clover is too aggressive and will likely hurt the alfalfa stand underneath.


Berseem (also called Egyptian) clover is grown primarily in the southeastern U.S. and in California, Arizona and northern Mexico under irrigation. It has oblong leaves, upright growth and develops yellowish-white flowers. It will not tolerate freezing temperatures and is, therefore, definitely an annual. Further, berseem seedlings will die when exposed to 25° F. temperatures, so it should be seeded somewhat later than alfalfa. It will tolerate wetter soils, like red clover, but should not be planted on


sandy, sandy loam or drought stricken soils. It requires a soil pH of 6.5 to 8.0.


We have tested berseem clover at Arlington and Lancaster, WI. In both cases, yield was about 10 percent greater than for red clover. I would generally not recommend use of berseem clover in Wisconsin. If a clover is called for and berseem clover is considered, red clover will usually do as well and is easier to manage. It is also higher in forage quality and more palatable to animals.


One caution: If berseem clover is allowed to flower, it will not regrow. So, if first cutting is not taken before flowering, there will be no regrowth the remainder of the season.


Dan Undersander, UW-Madison

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Balage is an alternative method of silage making. Grass or legume forage is wilted to 40 to 65 percent moisture, baled in a round or large square baler, and either wrapped with a plastic cover or placed into a bag. Balage allows the producer to make silage when weather conditions do not permit the making of field-cured hay.


Balage can be made with standard hay making equipment alone and the use of bags or by the addition of a wrapper. Wrapping is generally less expensive than using bags. It is frequently possible to hire custom baling and wrapping.


Other advantages are that making balage silage takes about a third less fuel compared to silage chopping, and the bales often can be self-fed to eliminate the everyday feeding chore usually required with chopped silage. Another convenience is that silage can be placed in favorable locations around the farm to provide small feeding units.


Bales should be made when forage moisture levels are 40 to 65 percent. Higher forage moisture may result in seepage and lower forage moisture may allow poor or improper fermentation.


Bales may be either wrapped or bagged. Wrapping requires special equipment, but the cost of the plastic is less than bags. Thus, wrapping is more economical than bags for large quantities of balage, while bagging is more economical when fewer bales will be made.


Plastic for wrapping should be at least 4 mm thick and should have UV inhibitors if white to reduce rate of plastic breakdown. Bales should generally be wrapped with at least two layers of plastic to ensure airtight wrapping and reduce the potential for holes.

Bags come in a variety of sizes and thickness’. Black bags tend to weather better than white bags, but silage may become hot in high temperatures. White bags have been improved with ultra-violet inhibitors which stop light from breaking down the plastic. Reusing bags is not normally recommended. The cost of bags can range from $6 to $12 each. Bags should fit bales snugly, but should be big enough to slip over the bales without difficulty. Forage baled at 60 percent moisture or higher can not be made into six-foot size bales because they would weigh too much for many round balers. Bales four to five feet in diameter and containing 50 percent dry matter should weigh close to 2,000 pounds. Size and weight of bales depend upon moisture content, type of baler and type of forage. When the bags are tied off and well sealed, the bag will swell with gases for a few days during the ensiling process. This is the sign of a good seal and means the bags have no leaks.


Wrapped bales should be stored in a well-drained site that is free of vegetation and trash. A clean site reduces the potential for rodent damage to the bags. It is best if the storage site can be near the feeding site as plastic is generally damaged in moving and will need to be fed shortly thereafter. All bagged bales should be inspected for holes in the plastic and patched immediately regardless of size.


Big bale silage should not spoil as long as the plastic remains intact. However, the quality of round bale silage is best if fed within a few months. The risk of damaging the plastic is proportional to the length of time round bale silage is stored. Plastic quality also affects the storage life. High quality plastic is designed to prevent oxygen infiltration for long periods of time, whereas low quality plastic allows more oxygen to infiltrate.


Disadvantages - All silage production systems have their weaknesses, including balage. Since the bales are going to be heavier, machinery that can handle the extra weight will be needed. Plastic bags or sheet plastic will need to be purchased. Additional problems include wind whipping the plastic and breaking the seal, cattle having difficulty pulling forage out of the bag, rodents causing damage to the bags and the chance of damaging the seal if silage bags need to be moved.


Another disadvantage is that it takes at least one extra person to put the bales in the bags. There is also the potential for pollution. Wrapping or bagging individual bales requires large amounts of plastic. Certain types of bags will not burn, and some communities have laws restricting outside burning. As society becomes more concerned about environmental issues, burning and other disposal methods may have a strong impact on the large-scale use of round bale silage.


Round bale silage is not ideal for every livestock operation, but it can help manage feed rations, especially by part-time farmers and during wet times of the year. Researchers are developing and testing new plastic formulations that limit air exchange through the bag covering.


Dan Undersander, UW-Madison

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Heaving is likely to be a problem in some alfalfa stands in eastern Wisconsin this spring. Heaving occurs on heavy soils that have high moisture contents. Repeated freezing and thawing causes expansion and contraction as ice is formed and thawed pushing the tap-rooted plants out of the soil.


Where heaving is observed, first dig a few plants to determine if the taproot is broken. Plants with broken taproots will likely green up and survive for varying lengths of time. The length of time before plant death will depend on the length of taproot above the break and will range from green up only to sufficient growth harvesting first crop.


Fields with heaving one inch or less are likely to have unbroken taproots and may be salvageable for at least the current year. They will likely green up later than normal. The best recommendation is to leave stands alone and harvest late (50 percent bloom) being sure to raise cutter bar sufficiently to clear crowns. Do not go over the field with a roller or cultipacker in early spring to push the crowns back into the soil. This is likely to do more damage than good. Natural settling should occur during the year, and if plants are re-seeded, stands should survive until next year. Stands entering the winter with elevated crowns are likely to suffer above average winterkill.


Heaving in future years can be minimized by having good internal and surface drainage. Tiling may reduce heaving problems depending on the depth of the tile. Residue on the surface over winter will reduce heaving because it insulates the soil and reduces the amount of freezing and thawing. This means that fields not harvested last fall will have less heaving that those with fall growth removed. Planting a grass with the alfalfa has not been shown to reduce heaving of the alfalfa in the stand.


Dan Undersander, UW-Madison

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The Alfalfa Stand Assessment Kits (AKA River Falls Squares) are still available. These are circles (hence the name) made of 3/8 inch cable that have the area of one square foot for counting stems and/or plants. They are flexible, durable and easy to carry and store. We are also including a card with root ratings and stem density recommendations as well as information on when to plow up stands.


These kits are $5.00 and may be obtained by writing to:


Dennis Cosgrove

Department of Plant & Earth Science

University of Wisconsin

River Falls, WI 54022


Phone: 715-425-3345




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