By Courtney Duxbury

Although Mother Nature is slow to bring spring this year, it is never to early to start thinking about your hay quality for this upcoming year.  The quality of your hay crop is dependent upon its maturity, growing conditions, harvest and storage processes.  Some of these are hard to control, especially when Mother Nature has her own plans.  Monitoring alfalfa maturity in the days up to harvest is something that you can control.

Many of you have probably seen your nutritionist out in your alfalfa fields in the spring measuring your alfalfa stands to help determine quality.  But did you know that this procedure is very easy, inexpensive and doesn’t need to be done by a nutritionist?  If you want to be proactive in monitoring your alfalfa quality, this is a quick and easy tool for you to use.

A PEAQ (predictive equations for alfalfa quality) stick is used to determine the forage quality of your 1st crop alfalfa stands.  In a matter of minutes, you can have forage quality prediction backed by University research.  The PEAQ Stick has 4 sides, generally one side is a ruler and the other 3 sides have Relative Feed Values (RFV) by plant physiological states.

To accurately take PEAQ Stick measurement, follow these steps or watch this short video on using a PEAQ Stick click here.

Step 1. Select a representative one-square foot area in the field (tools are available.

Step 2. Determine the stage of the most mature stem (not always the tallest stem)

  • Vegetative Stem; over 12 inches tall with no visible buds or flowers
  • Bud Stage; One to two nodes with visible buds; no flowers visible
  • Bloom; One node with at least one open flower

Step 3. Measure the height of the tallest stem in your square foot area (not the tip of the leaf)

Step 4. Based on the maturity and tallest stem use the correct side of the stick to predict RFV

Step 5. Repeat steps 1 – 4 at least 1 time per 10 acres (i.e. 40-acre field, 4x; 80-acre field 8x)

Quality of alfalfa can decline on average of 3 – 5 points of RFV per day depending on the weather, environment and genetics of your alfalfa.  If you take these variables into consideration, you can monitor your alfalfa every few days to determine harvest dates.

There are some limitations to the PEAQ Stick:

  • Quality of alfalfa is determined as it stands in the field; it does not account for quality loss during harvest (10 – 15 RFV points or more)
  • Can only be used on 1st crop alfalfa stands
  • Later crops should be assessed using scissor clippings
  • Can only be used on alfalfa stands
  • Grasses or alfalfa/grass mixtures should be assessed using scissor clippings

If you are interested in learning more on how to actively monitor your 1st crop hay using a PEAQ stick or to get the tools needed (PEAQ Stick and square foot tool) please contact myself or your nutritionist.