BOARD OF DIRECTORS:  Greg Kerr-President, Fiver Falls; Doug Bastian-Vice President, Madison; Dan Undersander-Exec Secretary-Treasurer, Madison; Ken Barnett Wausau; Tom Braun Reedsville, Darell Christensen Brownsville, Robert Eder New London; Matt Hanson Jefferson, Jake Kaderly Monticello, Randy Knapp Chippewa Falls, Ken Risler Mondovi, Scott Schultz Loyal, Paul Sedlacek Cadott; Ex-officio:  Dennis Cosgrove River Falls and Keith Kelling Madison.



Volume 23, Number 2, June 1999



elcome to the Summer 1999 Forager. Our second mild winter in a row has meant very little winterkill in Wisconsin. Another early spring is resulting in good first crop yields across the state. An extended period of rain has pushed first crop cutting back in some areas of the state, however, so quality may be less than desired.


The PEAQ system for determining alfalfa quality and timing of first cutting was used in Wisconsin a great deal this spring.  Changes in the PEAQ equation have resulted in improved correlations between PEAQ predictions of quality and NIR results. More information on the PEAQ system may be found on the UW-Forage home page at


Make plans now to attend the Wisconsin Forage Council Forage Expo September 8 in Manitowoc County. A good show is being planned, and we hope to see you there.  (See insert for more information.)



September 8, 1999

WFC Forage Expo – Manitowoc, WI

January 25 & 26, 2000

WFC Symposium & Annual Meeting – Wisconsin Dells, WI

July 2000

American Forage & Grassland Council Annual Meeting –

Madison, WI




Page 2

A New Use For Alfalfa

Pages 3 & 4

What About Dragging Pastures?

Page 4

New Director at USDA Dairy Forage Research Center

Page 5

Managing Hail Damaged Alfalfa and Red Clover

Page 6

Wisconsin Forage Council Advertising


We would like to thank Knowles Produce & Trading Co.

for Sponsoring This Issue of The Forager


A New Use for Alfalfa

By:  Dennis Cosgrove, Extension Forage Agronomist -- UW-River Falls


Buildup of phosphorus (P) in the environment and the resulting degradation of water resources is of mounting concern. High P levels in lakes and streams cause increased growth of aquatic plant life such as algae, which reduces the quality of these waters for wildlife and recreation. Much of the increase in P levels are a result of human activities including livestock production. P is abundant in the grain-based rations of poultry and swine. Because much of the P in grain is present in insoluble compounds called phytates, monogastric animals such as these are able to absorb only about one-third of the total P present in their rations. As a consequence, rations must be supplemented with inorganic forms of P such as dicalcium phosphate in order to meet animal nutritional requirements. This practice involves additional cost, and results in excessive P being added to the environment.


Research has shown that the addition of an enzyme known as phytase to rations of monogastric animals can nearly double the amount of P derived from grain. This can reduce or eliminate the need for P supplementation, and reduce the P content of the feces by up to 50 percent.


The phytase enzyme is produced by a fungi, and is obtained through fermentation in large vats. Currently, the cost of phytase supplementation is higher than the cost of conventional P supplementation with dicalcium phosphate. In order to reduce the cost of phytase supplementation, a team of researchers at the USDA Dairy Forage Research Center have produced transgenic lines of alfalfa which are capable of producing the phytase enzyme. Several of these lines were recently evaluated for their ability to produce phytase in the field. Using a value of $3.00/ton for inorganic P supplementation, the value of the phytase produced by these lines was $1500 to $1890 /acre depending on the extraction method. Further work showed that use of this extract in chick and weanling pig rations resulted in gains which were equal to or greater than those obtained from  P supplementation, or from use of commercial phytase extracts.


The use of transgenic alfalfa lines to produce phytase enzymes has potential both to reduce the cost of P supplementation, and to reduce environmental problems associated with swine and poultry production. It may also represent the beginning of many new uses of alfalfa as a “plant bioreactor” for producing many different compounds. 




Koegel, R.G, Phytase Feed Supplements from Transgenic Alfalfa. U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center 1998 Research Summaries.


Koegel, R.G, Feeding Trials Involving  Transgenic Alfalfa Phytase. U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center 1998 Research Summaries.




What About Dragging Pastures?

By:  Jim Gerrish, Forage Systems Research Center -- Linneus, MO


One of the questions that I commonly hear at producer meetings is: "Does it do any good to drag pastures?" My usual answer is the universal extension answer for all questions, "It depends!" and that is usually followed by my question, "What are you trying to accomplish?"  Someday when you have a lot of time on your hands, think about all of the things you do during a day, and ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish with each task. The result may be a little scary.


What are we trying to accomplish with dragging pastures? The most common goal is to spread manure piles to accelerate manure decomposition and enhance nutrient cycling. Covering seed or disturbing a thatch layer are other common objectives. Dispersing manure piles may also lead to more uniform grazing. On some farms, dragging pastures is a tool to transfer funds to dependent children in a tax deductible manner.


Does dragging to scatter manure piles actually enhance nutrient cycling? For all practical purposes, no research exists to answer this question. From high school chemistry or building a campfire, we know intuitively that as particle size decreases, rate of reaction increases. Thus, if manure piles are reduced to manure fragments, they will decompose more quickly. The smaller particles also have greater surface area contact with the reactive surface (ie. the soil). I believe it is a pretty safe assumption that nutrient cycling is accelerated following dragging.


The next question is, is the rate of increase in nutrient cycling economically meaningful? I really haven't a clue whether it is or not. Some other aspects of dragging pastures may have economic relevance. The chain or flex type harrow is a very useful tool for bringing overseeded legumes or grass into better contact with the soil. The greater likelihood of the overseeded crop establishing is probably worth the cost of dragging. Manure dispersal comes as an added benefit.


Spotty grazing is very often the result of livestock avoiding manure piles. Scattering those piles can lead to more uniform regrowth and less selective grazing. To completely avoid manure-induced spot grazing is virtually impossible with any class of livestock which are in a production mode. Dragging pastures after every grazing period to avoid spot grazing is probably not economically feasible.


Timing of dragging can be fairly critical. Autumn dragging to break piles up going into the winter can result in much more even growth on pastures which do not receive nitrogen fertilizer. Nutrients contained in the manure are likely to be back into the soil solution for early spring growth if autumn harrowed. Manure piles that have dried a few months tend to shatter and scatter very nicely this time of the year. It also ensures that legume seeds contained in dung piles are more likely to come into soil contact in the spring.


Spring harrowing can either accelerate or slow pasture growth rate in the spring. Harrowing prior to or at green-up frequently accelerates pasture growth by disturbing the thatch layer and allowing the soil to warm up more quickly. We have measured three to five degree differences in soil temperature in side by side harrowed and unharrowed strips in early spring. But, if harrowing is delayed too long after early green-up, growth rate can actually be slowed due to damage to tender young plant growth. Delaying dragging too long in the spring can also result in destroying legume seedling growing on dung piles.


Some concern has been expressed that dragging pastures may increase the likelihood of spreading infection of intestinal parasites to grazing animals. While this may be a concern in some environments, it is generally not considered to be a problem in the Midwest and Upper South. Manure in dragged pastures dry out very quickly during most of the year (May to October) in Missouri. Exposing more manure surface area to the sterilizing effects of solar radiation kills most parasites. Simply drying the manure out reduces the likelihood of some survival for some organisms. In cooler, cloudy climates, parasite persistence is much more of a problem. Parasite re-infection due to dragging is also more likely to occur with horses than with cattle due to the very severe overgrazing habits of set stocked horses.


We have kicked the piles around and thought about some of the benefits of dragging pastures. It is very difficult to say whether or not the benefits of dragging are worth the cost of doing it. In terms of economic importance, I would rate the benefits in the following order: reduced spot grazing (enhanced utilization rate is the economic benefit); improved seed/soil contact (the economic benefit is improved pasture productivity; and accelerated manure decomposition (the economic benefit is reduced fertilizer input).



New Director at USDA Dairy Forage Research Center


On March 1, 1999, Dr. Neal Martin became director of the USDA Dairy Forage Research Center in Prairie du Sac, WI. Dr. Martin replaces Dr. Larry Satter who served as director for 11 years, and returned to full-time research in 1997, and Dr. Dick Smith who served as interim director in 1998. Dr. Martin comes to Wisconsin from the University of Minnesota where he served as Extension Forage Agronomist for many years. He was instrumental in starting the Minnesota Forage and Grassland Council, and has been involved in many areas of forage research, including efforts aimed at improving NIRS forage testing procedures.


Those of us involved in forage research and extension in Wisconsin have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with Neal during his years in Minnesota, and look forward to working more closely with him now that he has come to Wisconsin. 





Managing Hail Damaged Alfalfa and Red Clover

By:  Dan Undersander & Dan Wiersma


Hail damage of alfalfa and red clover occurs in varying degrees of severity ranging from some terminal bud and leaf damage, to completely defoliated plants. Stands may also be lodged by accompanying wind and rain.


Alfalfa and red clover grow from the terminal (highest) portions of the plant. If these are damaged, growth is stopped on that stem. Thus, loss occurs from physical removal (loss) of forage and from terminated growth, requiring the plant to begin new shoots (stems) for growth.


Yield losses from any percentage defoliation will be in relation to the total undamaged yield potential. Data collected at UW-Marshfield Research Agricultural Station by Dan Wiersma suggests

that forage losses for hail damage to first cutting will be approximately 35 lb dry matter per acre for each percentage defoliation occurring with two weeks of harvest for both alfalfa and red clover.


This occurred on stands where the undamaged yield was 2.25 t/a. Hail damage losses for later cuttings are the same for alfalfa, and 23 lb dry matter for each percent defoliation of red clover occurring within two weeks of harvest. Actual losses are lower for second or third harvests since undamaged yield will be typically lower for these cuttings.


Forage quality losses also occur since the top and highest quality portions of the plant are removed when hail defoliates a plant. However, these losses are small.


Hail damage occurring earlier than two weeks before harvest will generally be to plants short enough so that the crown is exposed to some light. These plants will put out new shoots and produce a hay crop, though somewhat delayed.


When harvesting lodged alfalfa or red clover, our experience has been that disc mowers will pick up more forage than sickle bar mowers. Harvesting against the direction the forage is leaning will allow more to be harvested. With both mower types, tilt the cutter bar or discs forward to increase forage picked up. When using a sickle bar mower, one can additionally move the reel forward and down and increase reel speed to help pick up downed forage.


Recommendations are:


1.      If alfalfa or red clover is within two weeks of harvest and lodged, wait 3 to 4 days to allow stand to recover and harvest.

2.      If alfalfa or red clover is within two weeks of harvest but less than 50% of terminal buds are damaged, allow stands to mature to normal harvest schedule and harvest. Yield will be reduced, but undamaged buds will continue to grow and produce additional yield.

3.      If alfalfa or red clover is within two weeks of harvest but greater than 50% of terminal buds damaged, harvest immediately because little additional growth will occur (to the extent that terminal buds have been destroyed) except that coming from new stems, which could be a part of the next regrowth.

4.      If alfalfa or red clover is not within two weeks of harvest (stand generally 12 inches or less tall), wait for stand to re-grow from new shoots and harvest when forage is at normal harvest height and quality.





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