Why Feed Alfalfa In Beef Rations?

March 15, 2018


Use of Alfalfa in Beef Rations

Why feed alfalfa in beef rations?

  • Alfalfa can supply all the protein and energy needed by most beef cow enterprises and nearly all vitamins and minerals.
  • Alfalfa is usually the least expensive source of natural protein for all beef enterprises.
Alfalfa United Farmers United Farmers Alfalfa
  • Cow/Calf: As Crude Protein of pasture grass declines in fall/winter; the nutritional requirements of the cow in gestation goes up, good alfalfa can drastically help keep proper nutrition in front of them.
    • Graze alfalfa based pastures for high milk production, superior rates of gain, excellent carrying capacity, more uniform seasonal growth and flexibility.
    • Fear of bloat is costlier than actual losses from bloat. Avoid bloat by:
      • Avoid turning in hungry animals and grazing succulent plants (ex. Avoid moving onto moist pasture after dew/rain/irrigation, move mid-day when drier).
      • Allow alfalfa to put on a few blooms rather than vegetative stage-mature plants contain less soluble protein, more fiber so bloating tendency is lower, slower consumption and helps to maintain alfalfa stand.
  • Feedlot: Rate of gain and feed/gain ratio is optimum with high quality alfalfa haylage or hay.
    • Alfalfa is often underestimated and not well understood as an energy source for growing beef yearlings.
    • A little high quality alfalfa goes a long way
     Use of Alfalfa in Beef Rations Use of Alfalfa in Beef Rations
    *Source: Bruce Anderson, UNL Extension Forage Specialist
  • Desirable energy related characteristics of alfalfa:
    • Low NDF
    • Rapid NDF fermentation
    • High pectin
    • High buffering capacity

Alfalfa Management for Cattle

Many are focused on quantity of alfalfa over quality when producing for beef animals in general. Many acres for beef are produced on dryland acres and moisture is the most limiting factor.

  • Consider using a fast-growing alfalfa (FD 4 or FD 5) that breaks dormancy early in spring. This is many times the most consistent moisture of the year in the soil. Take first and second cuttings earlier and utilize moisture up front.
  • Cut alfalfa by mid-bloom to maximize forage yield potential, many times alfalfa is let go to full-bloom assuming dry matter accumulation continues. After mid-bloom the quality diminishes more rapidly and tons can be lost from lower leaf losses and/or lodging of tall plants. Past mid-bloom the potential losses out-weigh the gains.
  • Maximizing the alfalfa acre will require growers to take first harvest at the timing of many row crops being planted in mid-May (little later in the NW due to slower heat accumulation) not June when its more convenient.
  • Harvest alfalfa timely to maintain quality and hold leaves, as feeding higher quality alfalfa to beef can provide more energy, TDN and Crude Protein with great fiber. This can reduce purchases of alternative off-farm products that provide essential nutrients.
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