Can Cows Eat Alfalfa? What you need to know!

Alfalfa is considered a good food for many cows. It can even exceed the nutritional needs of a cow. For this reason, it can be used as a harvested feed or grazing option for beef and dairy cattle.

It is very high in protein about 20%, which is higher than most other feeds. Grass hay is often low in protein, making alfalfa an excellent addition to increasing beef protein intake. Regular grass hay also takes longer to digest than alfalfa.

If cows are given alfalfa, they tend to eat more. This can lead to larger cows that produce more milk. Well-fed cows are also healthier cows, so these animals tend to be in better shape overall, with lower mortality rates.

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Feeding Alfalfa to Cows

Alfalfa and grass hay can be used together to produce excellent beef cattle. If your beef cattle eat mostly low-quality grass hay, alfalfa can be added as a supplement to increase the cow’s overall nutritional intake.

Small amounts of alfalfa are often needed to compensate for the nutritional problems that low-quality grass can sometimes cause. Therefore, feeding mature hay or weather-damaged hay with some alfalfa is a solid and cost-effective strategy.

Consumption of alfalfa will cause cows to eat more because it is digested quickly. For this reason, you can expect these cows to gain weight, which in turn produces more beef.

farmer feeds alfalfa to cows

Alfalfa for Herding

While many people may wish to control the exact amount of alfalfa consumed by their cows, alfalfa can also be used for grazing purposes. Cows that graze on alfalfa are more likely to gain weight even in hot, dry conditions.

Rotational feeding is best done with alfalfa because you want the alfalfa to reach the proper stage of maturity before allowing the cows to eat it. The grass should bloom early. If they are overcooked before the cows eat them all, they can be moved to younger plots and the excess cut off for later consumption.

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Spreading rates are usually high with alfalfa as it is more energy dense than other grasses. You need to adapt it to your current condition. Mud fields should have a lower stocking rate to prevent the fields from being damaged (or better, the cows should be placed in “sacrifice” fields).

Alfafa for Calves

Alfalfa is especially good for calves because they need extra protein to grow quickly and big. However, it is best to pair alfalfa with another feed such as clover, which will provide the calves with all the nutrients and calories they need to grow properly.

Alfalfa can also last a long time with calves, so it doesn’t need to be replanted as often.

For weaned calves, alfalfa and corn can be suitable grazing foods. You can feed mixed pasture cattle and give them corn as a supplement, or you can feed calves a dry mix of corn and alfalfa.

Alfalfa often yields excellent returns for calves. It also results in healthier animals overall as well-kept calves are less likely to get sick.

calves eat alfalfa

Bloating and Alfafa

While alfalfa is widely considered to be one of the most nutritious feeds you can give your cows, it can also cause bloating in pastures.

You shouldn’t let these conditions scare you, because alfalfa has the potential to almost double the income of most farms. You just need to use it with care. You can’t just throw your cattle into an alfalfa field and expect them to gain weight.

Usually, you can limit the possibility of bloating by mixing alfalfa with other foods, such as beans. Alfalfa wilting before feeding to cows has also been shown to help reduce bloating.

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Preferably, you want to wait until it is in full bloom to feed alfalfa to your cattle. Alfalfa in early blooms can have more soluble protein and thinner cell walls, which makes them easier to digest, but these factors can also increase the likelihood of bloating.

Generally, anything that reduces the soluble protein found in alfalfa can lower your overall risk of bloating.

Managing livestock properly can also reduce risk. Starving animals should not be given alfalfa, as they will consume too much too quickly. Other factors, such as hot weather and disturbed grazing, can also increase the likelihood of bloating.

That said, nothing will eliminate the risk of bloating in the end. All animals should be monitored to ensure that bloating does not occur and treatment can be given if it occurs.

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FAQ

Can Grass-fed Cows Eat Alfalfa?

It is a common misconception that beef cattle cannot eat alfalfa. However, the extra protein in this feed is very helpful for beef cattle in particular, which is why it is recommended. While you have to be careful because of the increased likelihood of bloating, if properly managed, this grass can seriously increase the weight of beef cattle. It can be fed to steers and calves, increasing both weight and condition.

For this reason, alfalfa is often considered one of the best feeds you can give your grass-fed cows.

Does Alfalfa Poison Cows?

Alfalfa itself is not toxic, but is high in soluble protein, which is linked to a higher chance of bloating. However, there are things you can do to prevent bloating in cows. Some of this has to do with the plant itself, such as waiting for alfalfa to ripen or mixing it with other feeds to prevent overeating.

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Managing livestock is also important. Cows that are too hungry will overeat alfalfa, which can cause bloating. If you rotate cattle between fields, make sure they are not too hungry before moving them to a new field with alfalfa.

Poisonous plants can also mix with alfalfa, which can injure your livestock.

How Much Alfafa Can Cows Eat?

It is best to limit consumption to 5 pounds a day. You don’t want them to overeat alfalfa as this can cause bloating. Weighing 5 pounds a day, you can meet your livestock’s nutritional needs at a low cost because alfalfa is fairly easy to digest and high in protein.

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Conclusion

Alfalfa is a bit controversial in the livestock world. On the one hand, this feed causes weight gain in cattle of all ages. It provides extra protein and is very easy to digest. It also allows you to meet your livestock’s nutritional needs at a much cheaper price than some of the other options. For this reason, it can also help the average farmer make a lot of money.

However, alfalfa can be dangerous if not used carefully. High amounts of soluble protein can cause bloating. Therefore, you should feed your livestock only a small amount of alfalfa, preferably mixed with clover or Johnson corn.


Featured Image Credit: jmklatte, Pixabay