April 22, 2024
Alfalfa Hay

The Nutritional Benefits Of Alfalfa Hay Plant From The Pea Family That Is Grown As Cattle Fodder

Introduction to Alfalfa Hay

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a perennial plant from the pea family that is grown as cattle fodder. Alfalfa hay refers to dried alfalfa that has been harvested and baled for storage. It is one of the most popular types of hay used for livestock feed worldwide, as it provides excellent nutrition for cattle, horses, sheep and other herbivores.

Nutritional Composition

Alfalfa hay is highly nutritious thanks to its nutrient-dense composition. A quarter cup of alfalfa hay contains:

– Protein: Alfalfa is an excellent source of protein, containing around 18-25% by dry weight. The protein supports muscle growth and repair in livestock.

– Vitamins & Minerals: Alfalfa is rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamins A, D, E and K. These support bone health, immune function and cell health in grazing animals.

– Fiber: Alfalfa Hay contains around 30% dietary fiber by dry weight. The fiber aids digestion and supports a healthy gut microbiome in livestock.

– Antioxidants: Compounds like coumarins, flavonoids and saponins in alfalfa act as antioxidants that protect cells from damage.

Benefits for Different Livestock

Due to its balanced nutrient profile, alfalfa hay provides wide-ranging benefits for various farm animals:

Cattle
– Supports growth and milk production. Dairy cows fed alfalfa produce 20-30% more milk.
– Calves fed alfalfa grow larger skeletal frames to support future beef production.

Horses
– Meets protein, vitamin and mineral requirements for work and sport horses.
– Fiber aids digestion in herbivorous equine guts.

Sheep
– Lambs thrive on the protein and gain healthy body weights quickly on alfalfa diets.
– Ewes have increased milk yields to support lamb growth.

Goats
– Goat kids are robust and healthy when fed quality alfalfa from a young age.
– Does’ milk production increases on alfalfa-based rations.

Rabbits
– Commercial and homestead rabbit production relies on alfalfa as a primary feed ingredient.
– Rabbits grow and reproduce efficiently thanks to alfalfa’s nutrient composition.

Growing and Harvesting Alfalfa Hay

Alfalfa grows best in well-drained, fertile soil with a slightly alkaline pH between 6.5-7.5. Fields are planted by seed and grown in rotations of 3-5 years before replanting. Alfalfa grows actively during cooler spring and fall weather.

The first harvest, or cutting, occurs when plants reach roughly 10-24 inches in height, usually 45-60 days after initial growth. Subsequent cuttings follow every 30 days depending on weather and growing conditions, allowing for 4-6 harvests per season total.

After cutting, plants are left to dry in windrows for 12-48 hours until the moisture content reaches around 15-20%. Dried alfalfa is then baled either loose or compressed into square or round bales for storage until feeding. Producers can harvest thousands of pounds per acre each season.

Alfalfa Hay Quality and Storage

High quality Alfalfa Hay is green in color with a sweet, rich aroma and minimal bleaching or weathering. It should be free of mold, dust and impurities. Nutrient content and digestibility are highest in young, immature cuttings vs. older, stemmier growth.

Square and round bales allow airflow during curing and storage, avoiding spoilage. Hay should be stored under cover, off the ground, and tarped to protect against moisture, sunlight and rain damage. Proper drying and handling preserves maximum nutritional value for 6-12 months.

Low-quality hay showing discoloration or lacking smell and texture has compromised feed value. Moldy or musty bales run the risk of making livestock ill and should not be consumed. Testing can determine precise nutrient levels and guide feeding protocols.

With excellent nutritional properties and benefits for livestock, quality alfalfa hay remains a staple forage crop worldwide. Through efficient cultivation, harvesting, drying, storage and feeding practices, livestock producers can maximize the returns from this nutrient-dense forage legume. When grown and handled properly, alfalfa hay is a cost-effective cornerstone of balanced livestock rations.

*Note:
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it.