Can Cows Eat Alfalfa? Precautions to Feed

Alfalfa for Cows? There has been a lot of apprehension about feeding cows with Alfalfa. Most livestock farmers consider it unsafe for the cattle. Alfalfa is an indispensable part of the horse’s diet, most horse owners swear by this forage for its nutritional value.

One may question if it is safe for horses why there are concerns about feeding it to cattle? Both animals have a different digestive system which allows only the digestion of certain food items.

It requires strategic supplementation of standing forage to optimize the ranch’s feed resource. For livestock, dozens of essential supplements come wrapped in a twine of one agricultural crop, Alfalfa. Whether it is safe for cattle or not, no one can deny it, being a nutritious forage.

Can Cows Eat Alfalfa?

Yes, Cows can eat Alfalfa, Alfalfa is widely recognized as a nutritional forage and used in the diet of beef and dairy cattle. Livestock farmers fear pasture bloat, therefore, utilization of alfalfa by grazing beef cattle has been restricted.

The ruminal digestion of Alfalfa is five to ten times greater than most grasses.

The rapid microbial colonization and reduced particle size increase the passage of digesta from the rumen, making cattle consume Alfalfa in large quantities.

The rapid digestion and particle size reduction, no doubt, ensure high productivity of cattle on Alfalfa field, however, it is also partly responsible for the pasture bloat.

With a few simple management tactics, cattle owners can add this forage legume in the pasture mixes and reduce the risk of bloat to the minimum.

Can Cows Eat Alfalfa Pellets?

Yes, but it can not replace the regular diet. If the cow has been grazing on pasture all day long, you can give them Alfalfa pellets to munch on in the barn. Pellets are pulverized hay that does not require a lot of chewing.

Can Cows Eat Alfalfa Cubes?

Alfalfa cubes require a little more chewing than pellets and contain much coarser material. Alfalfa cubes are lower-quality hay but make a decent source of forage in dairy cattle rations.

If you are supplementing, weigh out, and feed them once or twice a week. There is no need to soak the cubes before feeding, cows will learn to eat them the way it is.

How Much Alfalfa Should You feed Cows?

That’s an important question and most livestock farmers want to know the safe amount. As the excessive amount will lead to bloating, therefore, it is safe to feed them a specified quantity.

According to Research, cows should be fed about 5 pounds of Alfalfa a day or 10 pounds every other day.

This amount will be sufficient to meet the nutrients requirements of beef cattle without paying a fortune.

It is a good feed for producing beef cows and can be used as a protein source for cattle being fed poor quality grass hay or grazing corn stalks.

The aforementioned amount of Alfalfa hay a day will be sufficient to fulfill the protein needs of a cow.

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Can Cows Die From Eating Alfalfa?

Can Alfalfa kill cows? This is an exaggeration and the chance of a cow dying from Alfalfa is one in a million. If fed properly and under strict observation, there are no adverse effects of feeding Alfalfa to cows.

However, long-term exposure and feeding solely on Alfalfa may eventually lead to death. However, it happens rarely.

If you follow the strategic pasture management practices, a cattle owner can successfully avoid the risk of bloat.

How to Reduce The Risk of Bloat Associated with Alfalfa?

Farmers fear bloat problems associated with feeding Alfalfa, however, the danger of bloat can be treated by following these management practices.

Post Bloom

It is advised to allow cattle to graze when Alfalfa is in full bloom. During the vegetative to early bloom stage, the risk of bloat is the highest.

Once the Alfalfa reaches full bloom or post-bloom stages, soluble protein levels decrease, plant cell walls thicken, lignin content increases, and the digestion rate of alfalfa in the rumen decreases.

Also, do not move the hungry cattle in the Alfalfa pasture during the pre-bloom stage. Once the Alfalfa enters 15% to 20% bloom, the bloat risk is reduced substantially.

Do not Allow Alfalfa Grazing Early in the Day

Soluble protein levels are higher in the morning, therefore, wait a bit before moving cattle to the grazing field. You can mix clover feeding to cows.

Move them to the Alfalfa pasture once the morning dew is off, ideally, from 2 PM to 5 PM. Wilting of alfalfa lowers levels of soluble protein and helps in bloat prevention.

Mix Alfalfa with Grass

Another strategy to reduce bloat risk is to mix Alfalfa with higher fiber feed such as grass hay. Most farmers are favoring alfalfa/grass forage blends as they improve the health and productivity of cattle.

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Bloat-Control Agent

If the cows are grazing on pasture with different types of grasses, the risk of bloat increases. Add a bloat control or antifoaming agent (i.e. polaxalene) in the cattle drinking water.

It can be used during risk periods along with some dry hay. The fiber in the dry hay also dissipates gas build-up in the rumen.

Rainy Season

During heavy dew, rain, or wet weather, the risk of bloat is the highest. Alfalfa starts to grow rapidly and is high risk two days after the rain when it is hot.

Limit Grazing Area

If the gas build-up problem is getting out of hand, take them off the pasture or limit the area they get to access in a day, also, teach them to eat the whole plant including stems and not just leaves.

Strict Supervision

Monitor the pasture from time to time and the grazing cattle to see what they are eating. See if the grazing cattle are just eating Alfalfa or going for other grasses as well.

Concluding Remarks

Feeding Alfalfa with other grasses is a sound practice most producers go for. Alfalfa is the cheapest feed supplement but has a great nutritional value. The only risk that beef producers fear is pasture bloating which can be prevented if you follow the aforementioned practices.

Resources

  • Araceli Diamond is a Livestock expert and animal breeder. She has her own local farms for breeding and livestock nourishment. She is a research writer and answers the questions of readers.

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