Alfalfa hay is high in protein and calories (energy) and a good source of calcium, but it can cause bloat in cattle. It's best to mix it with grass hay for better rumen health and lower bloat risk.
It's important to pick alfalfa hay with a high leaf-to-stem ratio, as cows need stems for roughage and chewing. If the leaves fall off, the hay is too dry and a lot of the protein quality is lost.
What is alfalfa hay?
Alfalfa is one of the world’s most popular forage crops. It’s primarily grown as hay but is also used to feed cattle, sheep, horses, goats, and other livestock.
It is an important crop because it is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. It is also a great source of nitrogen. It can help improve soil nutrient levels and lessen the need for synthetic fertilizers.
To produce alfalfa hay, plant the seed in early fall or spring in well-drained soil that is rich in nutrients. Apply fertilizer at least before the green-up stage. Control weeds with herbicides as needed.
The crop is best suited for rotational grazing to minimize stress and maximize stand productivity. A stocking rate of 1,500 to 3,000 pounds of animal live weight per acre is generally recommended. This number can be adjusted based on past experience with stand productivity, animal needs, and the risk level a producer is willing to assume.
Because of its high yield potential, alfalfa has the capability to support a high stocking rate. However, stocking rates that are too low can result in poor hay quality and a reduced carrying capacity of the pasture.
When growing alfalfa for hay, make sure that it is sown in soil that has been well-drained and that has a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. In addition, the soil should be fertilized with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
Ideally, the crop should be planted at a depth of around 14 inches. This ensures good root growth and makes it easier to harvest the crop.
In addition, it also helps prevent rust from developing. Similarly, the crop should be mowed to about 2 inches in height to minimize weevil damage.
Once the crop has grown to a suitable size, it should be fermented for two weeks in an anaerobic setting before being cut and pressed into silage or haylage. This process breaks down the natural sugars into lactic acid.
This process provides a nutrient-rich haylage that can be fed to livestock or stored as a hay meal, pellets, or cubes. It’s an excellent source of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. It’s also a great source of trace elements, especially calcium. It’s also a great weed control agent for vegetable gardens, helping to combat nematodes and other insects that attack tomatoes and carrots.
How do I feed alfalfa hay to my cattle?
Alfalfa hay is often fed to dairy cows and calves as it is highly digestible and contains a high amount of protein. This feed also helps cattle to gain weight quickly, resulting in healthier animals overall.
You can feed alfalfa hay to cattle in a growing ration or as a finishing ration. However, you should always mix it with other types of forage to ensure that your animals receive a variety of nutrients and cover up any deficiencies that the hay might be lacking.
A growing ration using high-quality alfalfa can be very effective, as it can provide all the roughage your cattle need to grow. It can also be used to meet the energy requirements of your animals, as it is high in calories. It can even be used to add some extra protein to your ration, though you will need to supplement with distillers grains, or other protein sources to ensure that the ration meets your animal's needs.
When a growing ration of high-quality alfalfa is fed to cows, it should be mixed with a small amount of grain or silage to make up for the difference in nutrients. If the ration is mixed with grain, it should contain around 19% crude protein and 30% acid detergent fiber. Alternatively, a mixture of corn and hay can be used to meet the requirements for this type of ration.
It is not recommended to feed straight alfalfa hay to dairy cows as it can cause bloat, which is a common problem among livestock. This condition is usually mild when it occurs, and it can be easily treated by removing the animals from the grazing field and reintroducing them later in the day.
The optimum time to feed alfalfa hay to dairy cattle is during the grazing period in early spring, as it can be easier for ruminants to digest the grass and its higher levels of soluble protein. In addition, wilting the alfalfa before feeding it to your cattle can help to reduce the risk of bloat.
During the summer, you can also feed alfalfa hay to your cattle as long as it is not frosted or frozen. The cell walls of alfalfa are broken when it freezes, making it easier for ruminants to digest it and reducing the risk of bloat.
Can I feed straight alfalfa hay to my cattle?
Alfalfa hay is a highly nutritious and digestible feed source that is popular among dairy cows, as it supports rumen health and fermentative digestion. It is also a cost-effective choice for cattle producers.
However, alfalfa hay can cause pasture bloat in cattle. This condition is caused by soluble proteins and other particles that are rapidly released from the forage. Once the hay reaches the rumen, these particles are attacked by slime-producing bacteria in the rumen. The resulting foam decreases the animal’s ability to expel rumen gases, causing bloat.
To reduce the risk of pasture bloat, you should avoid grazing on alfalfa during major grazing bouts, which usually occur shortly after sunrise and early in the evening. In addition, you should watch your cattle closely to make sure that they don't eat too much hay.
If you do decide to graze on alfalfa, it is advisable to only move your cattle during periods of good weather when the forage has been thoroughly dried. In fact, it is best to wait a week after a hard-killing frost before moving your cattle on alfalfa hay, as this will help decrease the risk of bloat.
Another way to reduce the risk of bloat is to ensure that your cattle are receiving adequate amounts of supplemental calcium and phosphorus. This is especially important for pregnant and lactating dairy cows.
In addition, your cattle should receive plenty of water when grazing on alfalfa. They should also be given enough fiber to keep their digestive tract healthy.
Lastly, it is important to remember that alfalfa can contain high levels of calcium and protein. These are essential nutrients for your cattle, but it is recommended that you feed them in smaller quantities than you would with grass hay.
If you are unsure whether alfalfa is right for your cattle, you should consult with an equine nutritionist. They will be able to provide you with more information about the benefits of alfalfa for your cattle and help you create a diet that works best for your livestock.
Can I feed alfalfa hay to my horses?
Alfalfa hay is a popular and nutritious forage in many areas of the country. It is readily available, affordable, and palatable, so it can be a great base for a horse’s diet, especially for those with special dietary needs.
However, it can also be a problematic forage, so you need to make sure that you choose the right hay. For starters, you should consider the nutrient density of the hay. The nutrient density of alfalfa hay is higher than other types of hay, so it should be able to provide your horse with sufficient protein, vitamins, and minerals.
For instance, it contains high levels of crude protein, calcium, and digestible energy. It is also a very good source of iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and phosphorus, and it helps slow down sugar absorption into the blood.
It also contains vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, folic acid, riboflavin, thiamin, and pantothenic acid. It also contains trace amounts of lysine and cobalt, which are essential for the proper development of the horse’s bones, nails, skin, and hooves.
Despite its nutrient density, you should always make sure that your horse has enough exercise to burn off the extra calories they’re consuming from alfalfa hay. This will prevent them from becoming overweight.
Additionally, horses that are insulin resistant may become sensitive to alfalfa hay because it is higher in sugar and starch than other grass hays. These horses need to be monitored carefully, so you should consult your vet if you think they might benefit from alfalfa hay.
Although there are some horses that do well on straight alfalfa hay, most horses should be fed an alfalfa grass mix to ensure that they are getting all of the nutrients they need from their hay. The alfalfa hay will provide more protein and calcium than the grass hay, so you’ll need to keep an eye on how much you feed.
You should also avoid feeding straight alfalfa hay to horses that are obese because the extra calorie content will cause excess weight gain. This can lead to metabolic problems, such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (insulin resistance), and can increase a horse’s risk of developing laminitis.