Alfalfa is a widely used forage that is now added to the diets of dairy and beef cattle. But recently, the use of alfalfa as an added food for grazing beef cattle has reduced because there is a risk of cattle bloat.
This has resulted in some hesitations about feeding alfalfa to cattle as many livestock raisers now consider it unhealthy or unsafe. Unlike horse owners, they have made alfalfa an essential part of their livestock’s diets and even swear by the foliage in terms of the many nutritional benefits.
Can you feed alfalfa to your cows?
Even with the undesirable risk of bloating, alfalfa is still considered a nutritional foliage. Because of this, it’s still included in the diets of many dairy and beef cattle. It just comes with limitations in terms of the amount raisers use the foliage to feed their grazing cattle.
The reason for this is that the ruminant digestion of this plant is 10x greater than most types of grass. When cattle eat alfalfa, it causes rapid microbial colonization and a reduction of particle size in the digestive tract of the animals.
This increases the passage of digested food from the rumen, which then leads to a higher consumption of alfalfa. This particle size reduction and rapid digestion ensure the productivity of cattle when grazing on a field of alfalfa. But the foliage is partially responsible for bloating. But with the right management, you can still include this forage legume in your pasture mixes and while minimizing the risk of bloat.
Why choose alfalfa?
Alfalfa-grass and alfalfa are usually considered of the highest quality when grazed at just the right maturity stage. At this time, you can use alfalfa for grazing cattle like lactating dairy cows, grass-finished cattle, stockers, or even beef calves. You can also use alfalfa for grazing throughout most of the grazing season. In the case of cool-season grass, they grow best only in specific environment temperatures, while alfalfa can thrive best at temperatures that are slightly higher.
Because of this characteristic, alfalfa can extend the grazing season into the summer. But you shouldn’t let your cows graze on this plant nor should you harvest it between the middle of September and the “killing frost.” Doing this will prevent the plants from storing root carbohydrates to improve their survival in the winter.
Also, remember that alfalfa has a deep tap root that allows the plants to access water stored deep in the soil compared to grass. Because of this, they have a higher chance of growing even when there is mild drought.
Is alfalfa good for cows?
With proper management, alfalfa can be good for cows. It’s rich in both calcium and protein. When you combine it with corn, it can form the base for the diet of your growing cattle. Alfalfa can elevate the protein levels of grass hays, which usually lack this nutrient. This means that animals that eat alfalfa can eat more, gain weight quickly, produce more milk, and stay healthy.
Give high-quality alfalfa
Many cattle raisers now choose to use alfalfa as a protein supplement because alfalfa hay costs relatively less. Just remember that alfalfa is only a supplement, it isn’t a substitute. If you will provide your cows with high-quality alfalfa, chances are, they will eat it. If you have a dry cow that’s in good condition that has access to Bermuda grass, average-quality hay, or dormant native grass, that cow may need less of this supplement.
Perhaps the most important step you should take is to have a nutrient analysis conducted on your alfalfa plants. This will help you determine how much protein your plants contain. This analysis will let you know how much alfalfa you can feed your cattle each day to help them meet their daily nutrient requirements. Make sure not to spoil your cows. Only give them what they require and never let them eat more than that.
Both the proper management of your cows to prevent bloating and the management of the alfalfa plants are equally important. You will have to make sure that your cattle receive regular and uniform alfalfa intakes. Also, provide your cows with a combination of high-quality alfalfa-grass hay that will fill their rumen. This is essential to prevent the over-consumption of fresh alfalfa, especially when you first introduce your cattle to the pasture.