If you talk to most farmers in the Brazos River Bottom many will tell you that there’s not much that can’t be grown in that fertile soil. That soil plus the availability of water has a couple of Brazos Valley farmers attempting to produce some really high quality hay. Bill Merka and James Baggs grow alfalfa in the Brazos River Bottom and say that an alfalfa plant will produce quality hay for about five years.
“Alfalfa is planted typically in the fall. You want to get it in during a weed free fall. It’ll grow up all through the winter and usually your first cutting is coming off about March. Best case scenario probably seven cuttings a year.”
Merka says soil in the bottom is perfect for alfalfa but it’s also a very thirsty crop.
“Fifty inches of moisture, whether it comes from rainfall or with our center pivot irrigation systems. The Brazos Bottom has the great, low, fairly shallow wells that will produce six hundred to seven hundred gallons per minute which is perfect for the type of irrigation we do. We use a center pivot because it’s very efficient to water with. Most of the water hits the plant, and so it does a very good job of irrigating crops and especially a hay crop like alfalfa.”
Baggs says they hope to get a cutting every thirty days but that the plant rather than the calendar determines when they cut.
“Alfalfa is typically cut on stage of bloom, so typically most times of the year you’re wanting to cut your alfalfa at about ten percent bloom. So once you have about ten percent of the plant starting to show the pretty little purple flowers, it’s time to go ahead and cut at that point. The more flower stage, the lower your protein concentration and the tougher the hay just tends to be so that’s usually the time that we’re going to be cutting, not so much based on the amount of forage we have on the ground, but on when that alfalfa says that it’s time to be cut.”
The highest quality Coastal Bermuda hay will range from twelve to maybe fourteen percent protein. Alfalfa produces the highest protein and digestible hay that you can feed to livestock.
“Most of them that I have seen have been around the eighteen to twenty percent mark. Twenty three is what they call supreme. Supreme is, I don’t know, the unattainable goal. We’ve hit it once and we’d hope to continue.”