Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a perennial flowering plant. It belongs to the legume family which is considered the best forage crop for various domestic animals. This grass hay is globally cultivated for multiple purposes such as grazing, hay production, silage, and green manure or cover cropping.
In the UK, it is recognized by the name Lucerne. This versatile plant is known for its exceptional nutritional profile and annual high yields.
Alfalfa hay is crucial in sustainable agriculture due to its adaptability to diverse environmental conditions. It significantly contributes to maintaining soil health and promoting biodiversity.
Nutritional values of Alfalfa Hay:
Table of Contents
The average percentage of key nutrients present in Alfalfa hay:
|Average (% DM)
|16 to 20%
|25 to 30 %
|40 to 60 %
|1.06 – 1.32% Mcal/Lb
Complete Planting Guide for Alfalfa:
Alfalfa was first cultivated in South Asia and is now grown worldwide. This forage legume typically lives for four to eight years or more, depending on the type and climate.
The plant grows to about a meter (3 feet 3 inches) in height. It has deep roots that usually go down about 2-3 meters. However, it depends on the soil type and can spread on more than 15 meters (49 feet) to reach groundwater.
This deep root system adds nitrogen and organic matter to the soil, improving soil fertility and preventing erosion.
Time to Plant Alfalfa:
The ideal times for planting are April to May. Spring planting offers cold-tolerant seedlings but look for weeds. Seeding in August is also an option but depends on soil moisture, rainfall, and irrigation.
To avoid extreme weather conditions and better results, plant alfalfa when the soil temperatures are between 50-86°F (10-30°C).
Make sure to plant at least six weeks before the first hard freeze (around 28°F) in your area.
This timing allows the seeds to settle before the frost, fostering healthy growth and higher yields. The entire process, from planting to observing the plants significantly impacts the success of your alfalfa grass hay.
Using good-quality Alfalfa seeds and monitoring their growth for a thriving crop is important.
Choose a well-drained field with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Alfalfa hay is well-adapted to various soil types. Sandy soils are excellent for producing alfalfa yields if properly fertilized and irrigated. Ensure that the selected area receives at least 6-8 hours of sunlight exposure daily.
Plough and level the soil to prepare a firm seedbed for seeding Alfalfa. Weeds and debris must be removed to provide a clean environment for seed germination.
Evenly spread alfalfa seeds at 15-20 pounds per acre to ensure successful germination and establish good seed-to-soil contact. Plant the seeds at a depth of 0.25 to 0.5 inches (0.6-1.3 cm). In fine-textured soils, sow seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep, and in sandy soils, go deeper to ¾ inch. This depth variation accommodates soil texture differences, promoting optimal conditions for alfalfa growth.
Alfalfa contains nodules that fix nitrogen but could still need potassium and phosphorus. Conduct routine tests of the soil to address any deficiency. Apply the required fertilizer for the healthy growth of the plant.
Adequate moisture is essential, especially during the establishment phase. Farmers should consistently irrigate the land to support germination and early growth of the hay.
Monitoring for signs of insects, rodents, or other pests is essential for maintaining hay quality and preventing infestations. Store hay in a clean and dry environment. Apply pesticides according to recommended rates and timings. Be cautious not to contaminate the hay and adhere to any waiting periods specified on the labels.
- Harvest the hay when it reaches a height of 18 to 24 inches and at the bud stage or before flowering for maximum forage quality.
- Cut at 2 to 4 inches above the ground to maintain long-term hay health.
- For the second cutting, wait until 28 to 33 days after the initial harvest.
Baling and Storage:
Following these steps actively preserves the quality of your bulk alfalfa hay during storage.
- Dry the legume for 3 to 5 days before baling.
- Keep the moisture content between 15 to 18% to prevent mold or overly dry hay.
- Choose larger and round bales for more effective water shedding and resistance to spoilage.
- Select a well-drained storage location away from chemicals
- Ensure enough ventilation to prevent moisture buildup and mold growth.
- Elevate the bottom layer of the bales slightly to avoid ground moisture absorption.
- Avoid tightly stacking bales to promote proper airflow.
- Regularly monitor stored alfalfa hay to identify and address potential issues promptly.
- Use temperature probes to monitor internal hay temperatures.
Alfalfa Hay Benefits as a Valuable Fodder
While humans occasionally consume the slender stems and sprouted seeds, alfalfa hay is primarily used as an animal fodder. The benefits it provides to various livestock include:
The legume is a valuable dietary component for various herbivorous animals. It contains all the required nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, and minerals to cater to the diverse dairy needs.
Alfalfa hay’s high fiber content helps animals digest food properly. It prevents many major issues including intestinal infections and gastrointestinal stasis.
Foraging and Enrichment
For small animals, the hay provides a varied and appealing foraging experience. It encourages natural actions like chewing, digging, and exploring which improves mental and physical health.
Alfalfa hay can be fed in controlled amounts for animals that require weight management. Its richness makes it suitable for young, growing animals or those with higher energy needs.
Lucerne benefits small animals, especially those with distinct dietary needs like pregnant or lactating females. Its calcium-rich composition plays a pivotal role in enhancing bone health in animals.
Suitable for Multiple Species
While commonly fed to rabbits and guinea pigs, alfalfa hay is also suitable for other animals such as cows, horses, chinchillas, and some species of birds. Its versatility makes it a popular choice among pet owners with diverse pets.
Enhanced Milk Production
Alfalfa’s calcium-to-phosphorus ratio significantly contributes to increased milk production for dairy cattle. Cattle generally find alfalfa palatable, making it an attractive forage option. Consuming enough forage maintains their overall health and supports lactation.
Alfalfa hay is widely recognized forage for its extraordinary nutrition profile. Properly growing techniques are essential for its high yield and quality. Its higher protein and calcium content offers your pet a valuable balanced nutrient diet to ensure a happy and healthy life.