The Winning Mix
for Tri-State Livestock News
They say to “keep it simple, stupid,” and for the Lewis family, success has come not only in the simple, but in keeping it “local.”
Nestled in Rapid City, South Dakota, the Grandview Angus operation seems to have captured a winning mix. A winning mix for good growing and good feeding hay that is.
Jamie Lewis, member of the Grandview Angus team, assists in the management of hay production for the operation’s purebred Angus bulls.
Lewis said 10 years ago, the operation started mixing grass in with their alfalfa and have found great success since. The operation uses a no-till drill to plant locally grown alfalfa seed into oats mixed with western wheat grass and orchard grass.
“There’s not a real science behind it,” he said. “We’re finding out what works on a production scale for what we do.”
Lewis said the operation is located on land with a heavy clay soil that is atypical for the state. Combined with a somewhat unpredictable climate, Lewis had to come up with a new alfalfa hay mix to provide for the operation’s growing Angus herd.
“This isn’t highly fertile ground,” he said. “Getting alfalfa to take is the big thing.”
Lewis said he originally intended for the grass to help dry down the alfalfa and allow for a quicker baling but has found the mixture actually helps “get the alfalfa going.”
He utilizes a no-till drill to plant directly into wheat stubble during the first weeks of April. After the oats are cut, Lewis said it becomes a waiting game for the alfalfa and grass to take off. He said patience pays off, as this mixture has proven to be extremely successful for the operation, with their best seeding occurring two years ago.
Lewis believes one of the biggest ingredients to their successful crop is utilizing seed grown in the same region the operation is located in. He said hybrid seed had close to a 40% less take rate used in the same mixture compared to the locally grown seed.
The local area seed had a better take rate and is more successful surviving the winter weather than some of the seed with origins further away.
Lewis said planting with a no-till drill is not a decision unique to his operation, but one he has also found the be the most successful. Since Grandview grows their hay on dry land, Lewis said saving moisture is extremely important.
Lewis said he, like most producers, relies on Mother Nature to provide rain to keep the plants supplied with adequate moisture. When planting alfalfa, Lewis said proper seed depth is essential to allow the budding plants to have access to this water, and no-till is one method that helps ensure proper depth is reached.
This planting method and mixture has allowed the Grandview Angus team to get two “really good cuttings” off the land, results Lewis said were good for dry land operations in their part of the state.
While Grandview Angus has been reaping the benefits of this unique production method, former forage extension specialist at South Dakota State University, Vance Owens, said he had encountered this particular alfalfa/grass mixture in the past.
“The mixture isn’t common,” he said. “But it makes sense that it could work, especially in a wet year like this.”
Owens commends Lewis’ operation for the “perennial mix,” describing it as a great hay mixture for all types of livestock, especially beef cattle.
Owens said the mix is unique in its combination of species, although it is not uncommon to plant perennial grasses with alfalfa, especially for beef producers. Western wheat grass is native to the area often planted on land west of the Missouri river, but orchard grass is a less common choice, Owens said.
On the other hand, Owens said using oats as a companion crop is common to the area and a production method he would recommend.
“One advantage of oats is it helps to keep back the weed problem,” he said.
He echoed Lewis’ statement about the importance of achieving the proper seed depth when planting alfalfa. He reaffirmed the ability of a no-till drill in achieving this depth, stating around half an inch is desirable for a small seeded crop like alfalfa.
Owens said a challenge of this mixture would be the limitation of herbicide options. By including the perennial grasses in the mixture, he said the ability to spray the outs out to eliminate competition for moisture is taken away. But with Grandview Angus’ choice to not spray, Owens said that problem has not proven to be a challenge for the operation.
If ranchers are looking to pursue this mix at their own operation, Owens said it would be a good choice for individuals with the goal of producing a good alfalfa grass mixture. He recommends producers identify their harvest goal before deciding what to plant.
Owens said the ability to irrigate would take a lot of uncertainty out of the equation, and water availability should also be considered in this decision process.
“Since this mixture has worked for Grandview Angus multiple years, it would be something to consider,” Owens said. “This is a great mixture, and I say whatever works for a farmer, more power to them.”
In regards to operations looking to try out this winning mixture for themselves, Lewis said producers should choose which grasses to use depending on the region and soil type. He said producers should be bold in their production decisions and be willing to wait for the desired results.
“Don’t be afraid to try new things,” he said. “In the cover crop and no-till world of saving moisture, don’t be afraid but be patient.”