Choosing Seeds for Your Forage

By Dr. Harold Willis

When growing alfalfa for forage, it is important to know what to plant and how much of each seed you should to sow.


Commonly used companion crops are flax, peas, spring wheat, spring barley, and early maturing oats. Winter wheat, winter barley, winter rye, and late varieties of oats are poor companion crops for alfalfa. Early mowing, grazing, or harvesting of small grain companion crops before the boot stage will help reduce competition with alfalfa.

The percentage of grass in legume-grass mixtures should generally be less than 25 – 40%, up to 50% in pastures, because too much grass will lower the protein content of the hay and may require more nitrogen than the legume can supply. Legume-grass mixtures that do well together include:

table for companion crops

To get your forage crop off to the best start possible, use high quality (high test weight) seed and a suitable variety which is adapted to your climate. Yield, winter-hardiness, disease and pest resistance, and maturity time are factors to consider in choosing a variety.

Different grasses and legumes and their varieties differ in their germination rate, number of seeds per pound, and growth-form (some spread out in growth more than others). Some useful information is provided in the following table, from Iowa State University:

table on seeds

University of Wisconsin recommendations for alfalfa seeding rates are 10 – 12 pounds of live, pure seed per acre for pure stands, 15 pounds per acre if quackgrass may be a problem, and 16 – 18 pounds per acre if you wish to harvest in the year of seeding.

Use the number of seeds per pound to figure seed mixtures. For example, it would take only about one-fifth the amount of orchardgrass seed to equal bromegrass.

Source: How to Grow Great Alfalfa