If an economical mechanical harvest is not feasible, it is possible to salvage some value from the crop by grazing it. Alfalfa makes excellent pasture for all types of grazing livestock, but it can cause bloat, especially in animals that aren’t used to grazing it. To reduce bloat risk, let animals take the edge off their hunger by feeding hay before turning onto alfalfa pasture, avoid grazing alfalfa wet with dew or rain, use a heavy stocking rate to discourage animals from eating only the leaves, and consider feeding a bloat preventative.
If stands will not yield enough hay or haylage to cover the cost of harvest, and grazing is not feasible, then it will not harm the alfalfa to leave it uncut until the drought breaks and dormancy is broken. It is not necessary for health of the stand to clip off the old droughty stems before the next harvest. However, the old stems will decrease forage quality of the new harvest to an extent proportional to the amount present. Such hay should not be marketed for animals such as high-producing dairy cows, but it is suitable for most other classes of animals.
Regardless of harvest management, stands should continue to be monitored for insect problems through the drought and treated if necessary, especially for potato leafhopper. Scheduled fertilizer applications should continue as indicated by soil test. Plentiful potash (potassium) is particularly important in helping plants tolerate drought stress, and drought is not the time to skimp on this nutrient.