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Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)

Description and recommendations

Common names

Alfalfa, lucerne [English]; luzerne [French]; alfalfa, mielga [Spanish]; alfafa, luzerna [Portuguese]; yonca [Turkish]; cỏ linh lăng [Vietnamese]; برسيم حجازي [Arabic]; अल्फाल्फा [Hindi]; ムラサキウマゴヤシ [Japanese]; Люцерна [Russian]

Taxonomic information

Sources differ on whether certain Medicago plants are separate species or subspecies of Medicago sativa. Particularly, Medicago falcata L. is considered either a another species or a subordinate taxon (Medicago sativa subsp. falcata). In the latter system, many hybrids are also classified as Medicago sativa. See GRIN for a comprehensive and inclusive list of synonyms (with subspecies) and ILDIS for a more exclusive list. In this document, we have chosen the inclusive system as detailed taxonomic information is uncommon in feed literature about alfalfa.


Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is a perennial herbaceous legume. Due to its high nutritional quality, high yields and high adaptability, alfalfa is one of the most important legume forages of the world. A major source of protein for livestock, it is a basic component in rations for dairy cattle, beef cattle, horses, sheep, goats and other classes of domestic animals (Radovic et al., 2009). It is cultivated in more than 80 countries in an area exceeding 35 million ha (Radovic et al., 2009). World production of alfalfa was around 436 million tons in 2006 (FAO, 2006).

Alfalfa has a deep root that reaches down to 4 m, but can reach 7-9 m in well drained soils. Its stems are erect or decumbent, up to 1 m high, glabrous or hairy in the upper parts. Leaves are trifoliate, with obovate leaflets, 10-45 mm long and 3-10 mm broad. Inflorescences are oval or rounded racemes bearing 5 to 40 yellow, blue or purple flowers. Fruits are 2-8 seeded curly pods turning from green to brown (Ecoport, 2009). There are numerous cultivars of alfalfa, selected for specific abilities, such as winter hardiness, drought resistance, tolerance to heavy grazing (like the Spanish "Mielga" cultivars) or tolerance to pests and diseases (Frame, 2005). Current breeding targets also include feeding value parameters such as digestibility and fibre content (Julier et al., 2000).

While the slender stems and sprouted seeds are sometimes eaten by humans, alfalfa is mainly used as animal fodder. It is usually cultivated for hay, and is frequently used for silage or haylage, dehydrated to make meal or pellets, or used fresh by grazing or cut-and-carry (Radovic et al., 2009; Frame, 2005). In several countries, dehydration plants produce alfalfa pellets with standardized protein content targeting specific markets. When managed as a pasture it can be grown as a pure sward or with companion legumes or grasses (Cook et al., 2005). Pigment-rich protein concentrates obtained by pressure of the aerial part are produced industrially for poultry and pig nutrition (See Leaf protein concentrate).


Alfalfa originated from the Mediterranean basin and southwest Asia (Iran, Afghanistan) and was one of the first forage crops to be domesticated (Cook et al., 2005). It is now cultivated worldwide, from 36°S to 58°N and from sea level to 2400 m (Ecoport, 2009). The USA is the main producer of alfalfa, and the crop is common in many parts of Europe as well as in the Middle-East, Africa, South America and Australia (map of alfafa production).

Due to its variable genetic base, alfalfa has good adaptability to different environmental conditions (Radovic et al., 2009). Optimal growth conditions are 25°C average day-temperatures and 600 to 1200 mm annual rainfall. It appreciates a long day season and bright sun light. It grows best on deep, well-drained, sandy to fertile loamy soils, with 6.5-7.5 soil pH. Alfalfa is tolerant of drought due to its deep roots. However, it is also cultivated without irrigation in dry regions with 200 mm annual rainfall as well as in humid regions that receive 2500 mm rainfall. It tolerates relative salinity. Some cultivars are winter hardy and known to tolerate temperatures as low as -25°C in Alaska (Frame, 2005) while others tolerate high temperatures provided they are not combined with high air moisture (Göhl, 1982). Alfalfa responds well to irrigation but does not stand waterlogging or soil compaction (Ecoport, 2009).Alfalfa originated from the Mediterranean basin and southwest Asia (Iran, Afghanistan) and was one of the first forage crops to be domesticated (Cook et al., 2005). It is now cultivated worldwide, from 36°S to 58°N and from sea level to 2400 m (Ecoport, 2009). The USA are the main producer of alfalfa, and the crop is common in many parts of Europe as well as in the Middle-East, Africa, South America and Australia (map of alfafa production).

Forage management


Alfalfa is one of the highest yielding forage legume (20 t/ha DM in the USA, about 16 t/ha DM in France) (Frame, 2005). Under irrigation, it can produce 25 to 27 t/ha DM with a production reduced in the 3rd year to 8-15 t/ha DM. Production may be related to plant density, to disease resistance and to the winter activity level of the cultivar. Under rain-grown situations the production is also determined by the availability of soil moisture (Cook et al., 2005). There is a negative association between yield and nutritive value, which has greatest impact on timing of harvests made in spring and early summer in humid environments, and in early and late summer in more arid regions (Brink et al., 2010).


Alfalfa should be seeded in dense swards if further grazing is planned (Suttie, 2000). Alfalfa does not tolerate close grazing well, and some form of rotational grazing is necessary to maintain the persistence and production of plants, with rest intervals that replenish the crown and roots of plants in carbohydrates and nitrogen (Frame, 2005). The duration of rest intervals depends on growth conditions, but 5 to 6 weeks are likely to be necessary. In a continuous grazing system, intensive defoliation can damage the plant crowns. In mixed pastures, stocking rates and grazing intensity should be controlled to prevent the selective overgrazing of alfalfa (Leach, 1983). Some cultivars are better adapted to grazing than others, including continuous grazing (Brummer et al., 1991).

Organic farming

Alfalfa contains features essential for organic farming because of its nutritional quality, nitrogen fixation and adaptive capacity (Torricelli, 2006). Specific varieties may be recommended depending on region-specific adaptation and management (Annicchiarico et al., 2010).



Alfalfa may be cut several times a year (up to 12 in warm regions). The best stage for cutting is at 25-50 % flowering as the nutritive value drops after that. After the first cut, it is advisable to wait for the young shoots to be 35 to 50 mm long before the next cut. The cutting height is important and to avoid damage to the plant a 5-10 cm stubble should be left. This will help ensure good regrowth (Suttie, 2000).

Best quality hay is obtained when cutting is done during a dry period so that the swathe dries quickly. Raking has to be done at 60 % DM, as carefully as possible so that the plant does not lose its leaves. Baling should be done at 82 % DM. These conditions are generally satisfied in small-scale farms (Suttie, 2000).


Silage is a good conservation method even in harsh conditions. Since alfalfa has a low carbohydrate content it has to be supplemented with carbon sources, such as ground cereal grains like wheat or barley, and inoculated to start fermentation (Mason, 1998). Alfalfa silages can be made using fresh alfalfa or pre-wilted alfalfa. The crop should be at 50-70 % moisture before ensiling to prevent nutrient leaching (Mason, 1998). Making silage with fresh alfalfa may cause nutrient losses due to its high water content: it is advisable to limit liquid losses by adding material such as ground cereal grains, sugar beet dehydrated pulp or wheat straw at the bottom of the silo. When the silage is too wet, anaerobic bacteria such as Clostridia may develop and break down protein. Additives such as organic acids (formic acid, formic acid+formaldehyde, propionic acid) or calcium salts can help to lower pH value and to improve preservation (low pH is deleterious to Clostridia development) (Mauriès, 2003; Mason, 1998). A too dry material or insufficient compaction may result in oxygen being trapped in the silage, resulting in yeast and mould development. Alfalfa should be finely chopped to remove oxygen (Meisser et al., 2005).

Pre-wilting is the best way to improve forage quality since wilting reduces water content and protein degradation. However, when moisture is above 50 %, leaf losses are very important and cause protein loss (Mauriès, 2003).

Dehydrated alfalfa

The alfalfa dehydration industry developed after World War II. Dehydration was found to be the best way as it dries and stabilizes alfalfa while preserving its high protein content, vitamins and overall nutritive value (Renaud, 2002). Moreover, dehydrated alfalfa is a good source of xanthophylls and beta-carotens for poultry farmers (Coop de France, 2008).

Dehydration requires pre-wilting and chopping in the field, transportation to the plant and drum-drying (between 250°C and 800°C) down to 10 % moisture (Coop de France, 2010). After drying, long fibre dehydrated alfalfa may be compacted into big square bales (Desialis, 2013). Alfalfa can also be ground to make alfalfa meal or ground and passed through a screw die to make pellets that can be included in big square bales (Desialis, 2013). Pellets are often standardized to a certain protein content (such as 17 or 18 %)(Desialis, 2013). 

Environmental impact

Soil improvement

Alfalfa is a N-fixing legume and does not require added N fertilizer. In unfavourable soil conditions or when the crop is first grown, inoculation with Rhizobium meliloti may be necessary for good N fixation (Ecocrop, 2009). As a perennial legume, alfalfa may be used as a cover crop: its roots improve soil texture and its leaves add organic matter to the soil. The leaf canopy prevents soil erosion (Suttie, 2000). Alfalfa often increases the yield of succeeding crops. However, when alfalfa is ploughed under, care must be taken to prevent N losses due to the mineralisation of plant residues. N release occurs within 18 months after alfalfa removal and it is thus recommended to sow the following crop as soon as possible after ploughing. If the next crop cannot be sown before winter, alfalfa should not be cut in the autumn (Justes et al., 2001).


The melliferous flowers of alfalfa attract bees and birds and enhance biodiversity. The crop is valued for honey production (Duke, 1983).

Genetically modified alfalfa

Genetically-modified glyphosate-resistant alfalfa has been developed. Planting started in the USA in 2005 but was regulated in 2007 when a District Court found that risks of cross-contamination with non-GM alfalfa had not been sufficiently assessed by the USDA. The ban was reversed in June 2010 by the US Supreme Court and planting resumed in January 2011.

Potential constraints


Grazed or fresh alfalfa at vegetative or mid-bud stage may cause bloat in sheep and cattle. This problem may be alleviated by restricting access to alfalfa or by feeding sheep and cattle before they come into the sward. Supplementing cattle and sheep with grass, cereal grains or anti-foaming agents (such as poloxalene) can alleviate this problem (Frame, 2005). Access to anti-bloating agents (drenching, addition to the water supply, rumen capsules, spraying) is essential in intensively grazed situations (Cook et al., 2005). Forage cut at flowering time and dried in the field rarely causes bloating (Duke, 1983).


Cases of photosensitization have been reported in cattle and sheep. In male sheep, it can result in pizzle rot and enterotoxemia (Cook et al., 2005).


Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens that are reported to reduce conception rates in cattle and sheep fed alfalfa prior to mating (Frame, 2005). The estrogen content varies among genotypes, but may increase in leaves due to attacks of parasites and fungi that are often prevalent in the autumn (White, 1982).


Saponin content in alfalfa forage may have adverse haemolytic effects on livestock and reduce growth and egg-production in poultry (Munro, 2009). However, it also gives the plant resistance to pests (Tava et al., 1993).

Nutritional attributes

General interest

Called the "Queen of forages" in the USA, alfalfa has an outstanding protein content and a well-balanced amino acids profile for ruminants that compares favourably with that of soybean (Mauriès, 2003). Alfalfa yields more protein per unit area than soybean (Mauriès, 2003). Alfalfa provides higher amounts of minerals (mainly calcium, but also magnesium, potassium, sulfur, iron, cobalt, manganese, and zinc) and vitamins (beta-carotene) than other fodders (Frame, 2005). Beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, plays a major role in animal reproductive performances and it is also important for vision, growth and skin health (Chew, 1993). The energy content of alfalfa, though slightly lower than that of certain grasses, should not be underestimated (Bruce et al., 2008).

While protein content and protein degradability do not seem to differ much between alfalfa varieties and cultivars, numerous factors influence alfalfa hay quality (Veronesi et al., 2010; Radovic et al., 2009; Julier et al., 2000; Orloff et al., 1995).

Causes of variation in the nutritional quality of alfalfa

Growth stage, cut number, leaf/stem ratio, moisture conditions at harvest and processing method are the most important causes of variation (Veronesi et al., 2010, Mauriès, 2003; Orloff et al., 1995).

Effect of growth stage

Protein content diminishes with maturity while fibre content increases, due to a decreasing leaf:stem ratio. Leaves have a stable protein content that is much higher than that of the stems. Stems develop at the expense of leaves and their cell walls and lignin content increases with maturity, resulting in a higher fibre content for the whole plant (Veronesi et al., 2010). In Ethiopia, cell wall constituents increased by 0.16 % of dry matter per day with advancing maturity (Keftasa et al., 1993). Likewise, the mineral content is affected by the stage of maturity and the leaf:stem ratio, since alfalfa leaves contain more P, Ca, Mg, Cu, Zn, Fe and Mn while stems contain more K (Markovic et al., 2009). The following table presents the effect of stage of growth on the proximal composition of green alfalfa (INRA, 2007).

Table 1. Effect of growth stage on the proximal composition of green alfalfa (Western Europe)

Growth stage Dry matter (%) Crude protein (% DM) Crude fibre (% DM)
Vegetative (30 cm) 14.4 24.6 20.1
Vegetative (60 cm) 15.6 22.5 24.0
Bud 17.6 19.3 29.9
Early flowering 18.9 17.8 31.5

Effect of cut number

Increasing the number of crops in a season by cutting at earlier stages improves crude protein content and decreases fibre formation, but at the expense of yield (INRA, 2007; Hesterman et al., 1993; Brink et al., 1989). The following table shows the increase in protein and decrease in fibre from the 2nd to the 4th cut (INRA, 2007).

Table 2. Effect of cut number and age at cutting on the proximal composition of green alfalfa (Western Europe)

Cut number Age at cutting Dry matter (%) Crude protein (% DM) Crude fibre (% DM)
2nd cut 5 weeks 19.3 22.2 28.6
  9 weeks 22.5 17.9 34.5
3rd cut 5 weeks 21.0 24.1 26.1
  9 weeks 24.9 20.4 28.7
4th cut 5 weeks 19.1 25.9 20,7
  9 weeks 22.2 23.5 23.9

Effect of harvesting conditions

Harvesting alfalfa under wet conditions decreases protein content and increases fibre content (INRA, 2007). The following table presents the effect of weather condition on the proximal composition of alfalfa hay (INRA, 2007).

Table 3. Effect of weather conditions on the proximal composition of alfalfa hay (Western Europe)

Weather condition Crude protein (% DM) Crude fibre (% DM)
Dry weather 16.3 37.4
Wet weather 15.8 41.7

Effect of processing

Making hay or silage with alfalfa cut at early bud stage during the first cycle decreases protein content by 2.1 to 3.2 % for hay and by 1.6% for silage when compared to green alfalfa (INRA, 2007). Pre-wilting alfalfa before ensiling has a preservative effect on protein content (INRA, 2007). The protein losses in hay are due to leaves shattering during drying, which decreases the leaf:stem ratio (Mauriès, 2003). Raking or baling when the hay is too dry results in excessive leaf shatter and reduced quality (Orloff et al., 1995). The following table presents the effect of processing on the proximate composition of alfalfa forage (INRA, 2007).

Table 4. Effect of processing on the proximal composition of alfalfa forage (Western Europe)

Process Dry matter (%) Crude protein (% DM) Crude fibre (% DM)
Green forage 16.2 20.6 27.4
Ventilated hay 85.0 18.5 31.1
Sward wilted hay 85.0 17.4 35.1
Silage 18.7 19.0 30.0
Pre-wilted silage 33.5 20.6 29.2



The high dry matter yield, protein and calcium content of alfalfa make it a suitable forage for all classes of ruminants. It is often a major component of cattle diets: in the USA where 70-75 % of alfalfa was grown for dairy cattle in 2008 (Summers et al., 2008); 62 % of dairy cattle were fed alfalfa in 1995 (Mowrey et al., 1999). Alfalfa can be grazed, fed as green forage, offered as hay and silage or dehydrated. Cattle highly relish it though there are palatability differences among cultivars that could result from different patterns of protein fractionation (Summers et al., 2008; Frame, 2005; Cook et al., 2005; Mauriès, 2003).

Ruminants benefit from two major characteristics of alfalfa. Firstly, its high protein content is readily digestible (protein digestibility varies from 81 % to 73 % in green alfalfa during the first cycle) and this digestibility surpasses that of competing forages. Secondly, alfafa fibre is very valuable as it is rapidly digested in the rumen, which is beneficial to rumen activity due to its buffering effect (INRA, 2007; Cook et al., 2005; Robinson, 1998). Ruminants fed on alfalfa have higher nutrient intake and digestibility than when fed on other forages (Frame, 2005; Martin et al., 2005; Journet, 1993). Alfalfa may supply more than 30 % of the total digestible nutrients supplied by the same quantity of maize grain (Bruce et al., 2008). The beta-carotene content of alfalfa is much higher than in other forages and it has beneficial effects on the reproductive performance of dairy cows, as it increases calf weight at birth and reduces the interval between mating and calving. It also has a stimulatory effect on milk yield (Mauriès, 2003).


Organic matter digestibility ranges from 55 % to 77 % and depends on growth stage, cut number (leaf:stem ratio), and cutting frequency, harvesting conditions and processing (INRA, 2007).

Stage of growth

When alfalfa matures, cell wall content increases while OM digestibility and metabolizable energy decrease. From the vegetative stage to flowering, OM digestibility decreases from 77 to 60 % and ME diminishes by 2.6 MJ/kg DM (INRA, 2007). The decrease is least in leaves and higher in lower stem fractions than in upper ones (Buxton, 2003). The decrease in leaf:stem ratio associated to a decrease in digestibility of the stem parts (that become more fibrous) results in a general decline in digestibility (Veronesi et al., 2010). However, alfalfa digestibility declines more slowly than warm-season perennial grasses (Jennings, 2010).

Cut and cutting frequency

The highest digestibility is obtained during the first vegetation cycle. After the second cut, regrowths become more leafy with a higher leaf:stem ratio, resulting in an increase in OM digestibility (68 % to 71 % between the 2nd and 4th cut harvested when harvested at 5 week intervals) (Mauriès, 2003; INRA, 2007).

Effect of growth conditions, harvest conditions and preservation methods

High temperatures during growth decrease the digestibility of most forages. In this respect, alfalfa is particularly valuable since it loses only 2.6 percentage points of OM digestibility when other forages grown under high temperatures lose between 6.6 and 12.4 percentage points (Wilson et al., 1991). Harvesting alfalfa in moist conditions is detrimental to the quality of alfalfa hay, as losses of cell contents results in a higher proportion of cell walls (an increase in fibre) and thus in lower digestibility (Mauriès, 2003).

Preservation methods play also an important role in the nutritive value of alfafa: correctly made silages have a higher ME and OM digestibility than hay, and almost the same nutritive value as green alfalfa (INRA, 2007).

Green alfalfa

Green alfalfa can be grazed or pen-fed. In grazing systems, stocking rates should be high enough to remove the herbage within 7-10 days. The rest period between grazing should be long enough (about 4-5 weeks) to let alfalfa reach the bud-to-early-flower stage before the next grazing (Lacefield et al., 2005). Alfalfa grazing should not be done in areas where the soil is too moist as alfalfa cannot withstand trampling (Meisser et al., 2005). Since wet conditions favour bloat, cattle should be removed from the alfalfa stands when the weather becomes rainy (Meisser et al., 2005; Mauriès, 2003). Green alfalfa cut and carried to cattle gives higher productivity per unit of area as cattle cannot select the most palatable parts of the plant (Mauriès, 2003).

Lactating dairy cows and ewes

In the USA, several trials reported that grazing cows could consume 20 kg/d DM from alfalfa pasture and yield about 25 kg/d milk without supplementation (Mauriès, 2003). In Brazil, alfalfa stands could sustain 20 kg milk/d at stocking rates of 3 head/ha without affecting animal health or reproductive performance (Vilela, 2001). Cows grazing tropical pasture increased their milk yield from 10-12 L/d to 14-12 L/d and up to 20 L/d when they were supplemented with green alfalfa alone or green alfalfa and grain, respectively (Cook et al., 2005). When alfalfa is pen-fed in combination with maize silage, at an inclusion level of 50 % of the diet, an overall increase in DM intake is obtained. Green alfalfa inclusion also saves about 1 kg soybean meal of the daily ration, as alfalfa provides up to 20 % protein, and fat milk yield decreases (Mauriès, 2003).

Green alfalfa, used as sole feed provided enough digestible nutrients for dry and pregnant ewes but required supplemention in lactating ewes (Brand et al., 1999). Rotational grazing yielded higher animal performances in ewes (Thomas et al., 1995).

Growing and fattening cattle

Alfalfa is less commonly used for beef cattle than for dairy cows, as its lower energy availability does not allow it to sustain the same average daily gains as grass forages (Summers et al., 2008). In cow-calf production systems, alfalfa can sustain 0.8-1 kg daily weight gain in cows without supplementation (Mauriès, 2003). Irrigated lucerne can carry a beef cow and a calf on 0.5 to 1 ha on a year-round basis. Green alfalfa fed to beef cattle sustains daily live-weight gains of about 0.7 kg/head/day, which is lower than 1 kg/head/day obtained with diets based on the association of oats with improved or native tropical pasture. However, in areas where alfalfa grows throughout the year, supplementing native pasture with alfalfa over the full year can increase gains from 0.5 to 0.7 kg/head/day at double the stocking rate (Cook et al., 2005).

Under favourable conditions, with store steers (181-272 kg) average daily gains may be as high as 1.4-1.5 kg/head/day, and meat production ranging from 107 kg/ha (in rainfed swards) to 1946 kg/ha (under irrigation) (Summers et al., 2008; Popp et al., 1999). Limiting utilization of alfalfa-based pasture to less than 70 % may be more important for maximizing gain per head than managing herbage quality (Popp et al., 1999).

Alfalfa is valuable in mixed pastures. Steers grazing stands of alfalfa (38 % of biomass) and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) had greater average daily gains (300 vs 240 g/d) and gains per ha (17.6 vs 8.7 kg/ha) than those grazing tall fescue pastures only. The fatty acid composition of meat was not affected by the presence of alfalfa even though the fatty acid composition of the mixed pasture was different from that of grass alone (Dierking et al., 2010).

Growing and fattening sheep and goats

Sheep numbers can be increased from 6 to 15/ha by supplementing native pasture with alfalfa. In Australia, irrigated alfalfa can carry more than 80 dry sheep equivalents/ha from October to May (Cook et al., 2005). In Spain, alfalfa pasture grazed rotationally in 5-day periods can sustain up to 60 ewes/ha (Mauriès, 2003). Lambs grazing alfalfa pasture as sole feed during winter in the Sonora desert (California) gained 4.5-5.4 kg per month (Summers et al., 2008). In Australia and New-Zealand extensive systems based on alfalfa pastures are used for finishing lambs (Mauriès, 2003).

Mixed pastures of alfalfa and grass are possible. However, if the grass is over 50 % of the sward lambs have lower feed intakes and lower weight gains. Alfalfa-based diets can be supplemented with cereal grains, unless it is too expensive and unprofitable (Mauriès, 2003).

Goats fed on Sudan grass (Sorghum × drummondii) supplemented with alfalfa had greater (+ 82.3 g/day) average daily gain than goats supplemented with other legumes such as Lablab purpureus and Desmanthus bicornutus (Cook et al., 2005).

Alfalfa hay

The high content of structural fibre in alfalfa hay fibre that is rapidly digested by rumen microbia is particularly valuable in ruminants because it enhances DM intake. Alfalfa fibre helps to prevent acidosis due to its intrinsic buffering effect and to the stimulation of ruminative chewing and salivation which results in rumen buffering (Robinson, 1998). Alfalfa hay may be finely chopped, or coarse with long fibre.

Dairy cows

Alfalfa hay is used in lactating cows and heifers. Depending on the stage of growth at harvesting, alfalfa hay may be more or less rich in protein and fibre. Young alfalfa at pre-bud to bud stage yields high protein and low fibre. This harvesting stage may be suitable for high milk yield because protein is the most limiting factor of milk production during early lactation (Robinson, 1998; Dubé, 1978). An important proportion (25-35 %) of this crude protein is rumen undegradable and readily available for milk production. Feeding alfalfa hay alone can yield up to 27 kg milk/cow/d. In high-yielding dairy cows whose milk yield is higher than 45 kg/d, supplementary protein and energy (i.e. soybean meal and cereal grains) must be offered to sustain milk production but alfalfa hay already provides 50 to 60 % of total requirements (Dubé, 1978). Feeding dairy cows with alfalfa hay-based diets helps to reduce the purchase of costly rumen-undegradable proteins (Robinson, 1998; Dubé, 1978). Alfalfa hay can be the sole constituent of the roughage diets of lactating dairy cows or it can be mixed with maize silage at 1:1 ratio (Rouillé et al., 2010; Dubé, 1978). Offering alfalfa hay cut at bud stage is a good way to preserve daily weight gains in cows during early lactation but it is also possible to provide concentrates in order to prevent weight losses during lactation (Mauriès, 2003).

Dry cows are sensitive to excess protein and calcium and they should not be offered alfalfa. It might result in milk fever, downer cows, loss of appetite and poorer resistance to stress (Dubé, 1978).

Dairy ewes and goats

Alfalfa hay is valuable fodder for lactating dairy ewes as it results in satisfactory milk yield and animal weight gain. In goats, alfalfa hay is readily accepted and results in only 15 % refusals. Alfalfa hay has a stimulating effect on feed intake in goats (Summers et al., 2008). Alfalfa hay results in high voluntary intakes (91.3 g/kg W0.75) in lactating goats (Giger et al., 1987). A good quality alfalfa hay may sustain 2.8 kg/d milk yield. Milk yield can also be enhanced by maize silage supplementation (Mauriès, 2003).

Growing and fattening animals

Alfalfa hay can be used as sole feed in cow-calf production systems. Long fibre alfalfa should be preferred because it increases retention time in the rumen and nutrient utilization. Alfalfa hay may be mixed with maize silage and partially replace urea or soybean meal. Inclusion levels range from 12 % to 50-60 %, depending on the desired performance. Diets based on alfalfa and maize silage give better results than diets based on maize silage and urea, but result in lower animal performance than diets based on soybean meal and maize silage (Mauriès, 2003).

Alfalfa hay provides high amounts of minerals and vitamin A, the latter element being the main deficiency in cow-calf production systems. Feeding beef cows with alfalfa hay only requires salt and P supplementation (Mauriès, 2003).

In the USA, alfalfa hay is a good source of protein and energy for over-wintering beef cows. Alfalfa is an important transition feed for creep-fed calves. It is then offered with cereal grains at a ratio of 40:60 and sustains daily weight gains of about 1.4-1.5 kg/d. During the finishing period, diets may contain 15 % alfalfa hay and up to 85 % cereals, with average daily gains of 1.3-1.4 kg/d (Mauriès, 2003). During hot summers, alfalfa hay is mainly used as a fibre source in feedlots (Summers et al., 2008).

Dehydrated alfalfa

Dehydrated alfalfa is the best way to preserve the quality of fresh alfalfa. Dehydration has a preservative effect on the energy value and improves the protein value through protein protection. The protein of dehydrated alfalfa is less rumen-degradable and can produce more total amino acids to be absorbed by the small intestine per unit of protein than does soybean meal (Price et al., 1985). Dehydrated alfalfa partially replacing concentrates in dairy cow diets increased DM intake, milk yield and milk acidification rate (Calamari et al., 2007). Providing 3 kg of dehydrated alfalfa to cows fed on grass silage,  maize silage, barley grain and soybean meal, resulted in similar animal performance, higher feed intake (+2.5 kg DM/day), higher milk protein yield (+1 point) and lower soybean inclusion (-350 g/day) (Thénard et al., 2002).

Traditional alfalfa silage

Alfalfa silage is a valuable feed: properly managed, ensiling preserves the nutritive value of alfalfa to a greater extent than hay-making. Also, alfalfa can be ensiled under harsher conditions than hay.

Lactating dairy cows, ewes and goats

When alfalfa silage is fed to high-yielding lactating dairy cows, it should be harvested at bud stage since yield of milk yield produced from alfalfa silage decreases by 4 kg/day between bud stage and flower stage. However, alfalfa silage contains high amounts of non-protein N, which results in poor utilization of crude protein and excessive N excretion. Lowering protein breakdown into non-protein N in the silo can improve utilization of alfalfa protein (Broderick, 2001). Additives are necessary if silage (whatever its moisture content) is offered to lactating dairy cows: they improve DM intake and total usable protein content which is of utmost importance for high milk yields. Concentrates can be added to silage: this practice had a depressive effect on silage consumption but a positive effect on overall diet intake and animal performance (Mauriès, 2003). Alfalfa silage could replace 50 % of maize silage in diets of lactating dairy cows with no decrease in milk yield and milk quality parameters (Rouillé et al., 2010)

A meta-analysis of trials compared the effects of various legume silages on milk production. Dry matter intake tended to be higher (+0.8 kg/d) with alfalfa silage than with red clover silage (Trifolium pratense). While milk yield was not affected, cows fed on alfalfa silage produced milk richer in protein (+0.7 g/kg) and, therefore, yielded more milk protein than those fed on red clover silage (Steinshamn, 2010).

Growing and fattening cattle and sheep

Alfalfa silage can be fed to beef cattle. Cattle fed with alfalfa haylage achieved daily gains of 1.1 kg/d and up to 1.8 kg/d when supplemented with maize grain or dry corn gluten feed (Hannah et al., 1990). Additives may not be useful in drier silages (above 35% DM) as they do not improve animal performance. Protein content has to be monitored since it is the main determinant of animal performance. Alfalfa silage containing less than 20 % protein does not compete favourably with maize silage for cattle fattening. Adding concentrates to a diet based on alfalfa silage has a positive effect on animal performance and is a prerequisite to obtain as good results as with grass silages in growing cattle (Mauriès, 2003).

Alfalfa silage may also be fed to growing sheep and results in higher DM intake than alfalfa hay (74 g DM/ kg W0.75 vs 65 g/kg DM/kg W0.75). However, protein efficiency is not as high as in alfalfa hay due to the higher protein breakdown in silage (Peccatte et al., 1998).

Wrapped baled silage

Making wrapped baled silage has advantages over traditional hay-making. It has a more flexible harvest date, less weather dependency, and it offers greater flexibility in diet formulation (Savoie et al., 2003). Baled silage should be pre-wilted (2-3 day drying) so that baled silage contains more than 40 % DM (Demarquilly et al., 1998). Baled silage enhances feed intake in cattle in comparison to hay. In lactating dairy cows, baled silage did not increase milk production and other dairy parameters as well as alfalfa hay but over-wintering heifers fed on baled silage had higher weight gains than heifers fed on silage or hay (Demarquilly et al., 1998).


Alfalfa is not widely used in pigs diets, though it can be fed fresh, ensiled, as well as in dry (hay or meal) form.


Few data from the literature are available on the performance of growing finishing pigs fed on alfalfa pasture (Edwards et al., 1929, Danielson et al., 1969). The alfalfa pasture contribution to the total DM intake for growing-finishing pigs is minor (up to 15 % (Danielson et al., 1969)). Alfalfa-grass pastures are an efficient way to provide low-cost summer feed for gestating sows, which can utilize roughages better than growing pigs. The sows are provided a grain-mineral supplement in self-feeders that they can briefly access during the day. A rotational grazing system is advisable, and the stocking rate should be from 15 to 25 sows/ha (Honeyman et al., 1999).

Dehydrated alfalfa

Alfalfa is most commonly used in a dehydrated form in pig feeding. In growing pigs, a gradual inclusion from 0 to 60 % of dehydrated alfalfa meal reduces feed efficiency and daily weight gain (Kass et al., 1980). Alfalfa has a low energy density relative to its high fibre content (NDF: 34 to 49 % DM, Sauvant et al., 2004), which reduces the digestive and metabolic utilization of energy. In addition, alfalfa protein is poorly digested by pigs and components such as saponins can reduce its palatability (Cheeke et al., 1977). The nutritional value of alfalfa meal can be improved by the addition of organic acids in the diet (Thacker et al., 2009).

Because of its high fibre content, alfalfa meal should not be used in weanling pigs. In growing pigs, the inclusion rate of alfalfa should be limited to a maximum of 10 % (diet DM) to avoid negative effects on growth performance. In the finishing phase, up to 15 % of alfalfa meal can be included in the diet (Thacker et al., 2008). The rate of inclusion of alfalfa could increase with new low fibre varieties.

Many data are published on the use of dehydrated alfalfa in gestation diets (Pollmann et al., 1980). The utilization of high fibre feeds in pregnant sows, including alfalfa meal, is of particular interest since sows have the ability to digest the dietary fibre fraction of the diet more efficiently than growing pigs (Le Goff et al., 2001). In gestation diets, alfalfa meal can be used at levels as high as 60 % (Chiba, 2001). The introduction of alfalfa in gestation diets may improve litter size and survival rate of piglets at birth (Pollmann et al., 1980). These effects seem to be related to the increased ketotic products in sows fed high fibre diets. The use of alfalfa meal in lactation diets is not recommended due to its low energy density, except at early lactation to prevent constipation problems.


With regard to poultry dietary requirements, dehydrated alfalfa meal has a low energy and protein content, and a very high fibre concentration. The inclusion rates of alfalfa meal in poultry diets should be relatively low in order to maintain performance. Its amino acid profile is close to that of soybean meal, with a high content in lysine but it is poor in sulphur amino acids and tryptophan. In poultry diets, dehydrated alfalfa is mostly used for pigmenting eggs and meat, due to its high content of carotenoids, which are particularly efficient for colouring egg yolk and body lipids (Guenthner et al., 1973). The stability and efficiency of alfalfa carotenoids have been debated for decades (for example: Taylor et al., 1938, Tortuero et al., 1976). Alfalfa leaf protein concentrates that are richer in energy, protein and pigments have been formulated (see the Leaf protein concentrate datasheet for more details). In the case of white meat production (chicken and turkey) carotenoids are not desirable and the inclusion rate of alfalfa meal must be limited.

Alfalfa contains antinutritional factors such as saponins, that have well-known depressing effects on poultry performance (Anderson, 1957), notably on feed intake and egg production (see the review from Francis et al., 2002). The addition of enzymes (glucanase or xylanase) is not effective for improving the nutritional value of alfalfa (Mourao et al., 2006). However, saponins may have desirable effects on the final animal products, as they have a hypocholesterolemic effect by forming insoluble complexes with cholesterol in the digesta that inhibit its absorption. As a consequence they may reduce the cholesterol content in eggs and meat (Ostrowski-Meissner et al., 1995), thereby  contributing to better-balanced human diets. It should be noted that there are alfalfa varieties without saponins.


Alfalfa hay

Alfalfa hay is of utmost importance in rabbit diets (Villamide et al., 2009). Alfalfa hay is highly palatable to rabbits (de Blas et al., 2010). Recommended inclusion levels are not consistent among authors and vary from 20 % up to 96 %, with a majority of recommendations in the range of 30-40 % (de Blas et al., 2010; Fernandez-Carmona et al., 1998; Gippert et al., 1988; Harris et al., 1981 and Cheeke et al., 1972 cited by Fernandez-Carmona et al., 1998).

Alfalfa hay is the most widely used fibre source in rabbit diets: it provides long and digestible fibre, thus promoting adequate transit time for the digesta and a balanced growth of the caecal flora (de Blas et al., 2010). Alfalfa hay inclusion decreases caecal pH and favors caecal fermentation (Garcia et al., 2005). Alfalfa hay should be coarsely ground in order to preserve its ballast function and to enhance intestinal motility (Mateos et al., 1989). An excessive substitution of alfalfa hay with highly lignified sources of fibre has deleterious effects on energy digestibility and caecal fermentative activity (Garcia et al., 2000; Garcia et al., 1999); it may hamper average daily gain and feed efficiency (Motta et al., 1996; Parigi-Bini et al., 1980). Substituting short fibre feeds such as paprika meal, sugar beet pulp or soybean hulls for alfalfa had deleterious effects on the performance of fattening, lactating and suckling rabbits. It decreased the weight gains of fattening rabbits by 6 %, milk production by 13 % and litter weight by 18 %. This lower performance was due to lower feed efficiency as the proportion of large fibre (from alfalfa) decreased. Large fibre proportion in rabbit diets should not drop below 21 %, corresponding in this case, to a minimal level of 15 % alfalfa in the diet (Nicodemus et al., 2006).

As a source of energy, alfalfa cannot fully meet the growth requirements of commercial rabbits, mainly because of its physiological limitation in ingestion (Fernandez-Carmona et al., 1998).

Alfalfa hay is also a valuable source of protein (25 % of the dietary protein) though its nutritive value varies greatly, depending on several factors such as the harvesting and drying process or plant maturity at harvest. Though alfalfa protein content is sufficient to meet rabbit requirements, the low digestibility of alfalfa protein makes it unsuitable for sustaining high growth rates (Fernandez-Carmona et al., 1998). The apparent digestibility of faecal protein of alfalfa hay is about 21 % that of soybean meal value and its methionine content is 42 % that of soybean meal one (Villamide et al., 2010). In tropical regions, where alfalfa is not readily grown, other protein sources such as bambara groundnut can be used instead (Aganga et al., 2005).

Due to heavy fertilizer applications, feeding alfalfa to rabbits may result in excess K (Mateos et al., 2010). Alfalfa hay is rich in calcium: this may be an advantage during the growth period but it should be limited or avoided in adult rabbits (Lowe, 2010). Alfalfa is also an excellent source of most of B vitamins, carotene, E vitamin and K vitamin (Mateos et al., 2010).

High levels of alfalfa hay (88 % and 96%) decreased rabbit mortality by 13.6 % and 10.3 % respectively (Fernandez-Carmona et al., 1998).

Dehydrated alfalfa

Dehydrated alfalfa can be fed to growing rabbits at very high levels of the diet (98.5 %) (Lebas et al., 2005). For weanling rabbits, inclusion rates ranging from 54 % to 74 % were possible in the diet (Sanchez et al., 1984). In both stages, methionine is the most limiting amino acid and should be added to the diet (Lebas et al., 2005; Sanchez et al., 1984). At a 35 % inclusion, alfalfa meal gave significantly higher weight gains than the control diet (groundnut meal) (Chen Hong Ming et al., 2007).

Alfalfa meal efficiency was enhanced by 14 % using low temperature dehydration (30°C-35°C) rather than classical drum-drying at 600-800°C (Lebas et al., 2005).

Feeding high levels of alfalfa meal (50 % and above) has a positive effect on rabbit meat quality. It may increase total essential amino acids, tasty amino acids and alpha-linolenic acid content, thus improving the nutritional and organoleptic quality of meat (Chen Ji Hong et al., 2010; Bianchi et al., 2006). Alfalfa meal can also have an inhibiting effect on microbial growth in rabbit meat (Vannini et al., 2002).

Horses and donkeys

Alfalfa hay is a valuable roughage and a good source of protein, minerals and vitamin D for horses. Alfalfa is palatable to horses of all ages and causes few problems. Alfalfa hay provides supplementary protein and energy to horses grazing short winter grass or dried-off pastures, such as pregnant mares, late lactation mares or mature working horses (Kohnke et al., 1999).

Alfalfa is particularly suitable for pregnant and lactating mares because of its well-balanced amino acid profile and lysine content. It is also a source of beta-carotene. For these animals, a diet containing alfalfa hay and concentrates in a 1:1 ratio is suitable (Mauriès, 2003).

Horses in training can be fed on alfalfa hay provided that they receive diet rich in cereal grains. Resting horses should not be given alfalfa hay as it is can result in protein urinary excretion and sweat output (Kohnke et al., 1999). In growing horses, alfalfa hay offered as the sole roughage source to supplement dry summer pastures may increase the risk of Developmental Orthopaedic Disease, which may be caused by the relatively high energy of alfalfa, its unbalanced Ca/P ratio (up to a 6:1) and inadequate levels of trace-minerals such as copper, zinc and manganese. In young horses, concentrates should represent 70 % of the total diet and alfalfa 30 % (Mauriès, 2003).

Alfalfa hay should be well cured and not mouldy, as horses in training may develop allergic airway reactions (Kohnke et al., 1999).

Other species


Alfalfa produces a large amount of nectar, which is highly attractive to many species of bees, and from which honey bees produce excellent crops of high quality honey. Estimations of nectar production are variable: figures as low as 62 kg/ha and as high as 2 t/ha have been proposed. When alfalfa is cut for hay just as flowering starts, the beekeeper gets little or no alfalfa honey. If the crop is left to produce seed, the amount of nectar available to a colony depends upon the plant density, the competition from other bees, and other environmental and agronomic factors. As a general rule, one strong colony per 0.5 ha of alfalfa should store 25-45 kg honey. When there are about 7 colonies per ha they may store little or no surplus honey. When honey bees have only alfalfa upon which to forage, the colony strength diminishes rapidly. Alfalfa pollen is relished by many other species of bees including the genera of Bombus, Halictus, Megachile, Melissodes, and Nomia (McGregor, 1976).

Feed categories


Heuzé V., Tran G., Boval M., Lebas F., Lessire M., Noblet J., Renaudeau D., 2013. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa). A programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. Last updated on December 9, 2013, 15:28


Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 90.6 1.3 84.9 96.0 15014
Crude protein % DM 18.3 2.1 13.1 27.9 14989
Crude fibre % DM 28.6 3.7 15.7 38.5 13571
NDF % DM 45.9 4.6 32.3 54.7 1017 *
ADF % DM 32.7 4.0 22.0 41.5 1020 *
Lignin % DM 8.5 1.3 5.4 11.8 832 *
Ether extract % DM 2.7 0.6 1.5 4.4 1089
Ash % DM 11.7 1.4 8.1 16.8 5848
Starch (polarimetry) % DM 3.3 0.6 2.1 4.2 60
Total sugars % DM 4.5 1.2 1.9 6.9 46
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.0 0.4 17.8 19.0 42 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 22.1 4.1 11.5 33.6 2224 *
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.7 0.4 1.8 3.8 1818
Potassium g/kg DM 25.6 3.3 17.1 31.7 105
Sodium g/kg DM 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.5 123
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.1 0.5 1.5 3.4 176
Manganese mg/kg DM 32 12 17 60 40
Zinc mg/kg DM 30 12 18 64 114
Copper mg/kg DM 6 2 2 11 96
Iron mg/kg DM 544 274 223 1084 29
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Alanine % protein 5.1 0.8 3.9 6.5 27
Arginine % protein 4.5 0.7 3.1 5.5 28
Aspartic acid % protein 10.2 1.5 7.8 12.8 28
Cystine % protein 1.1 0.3 0.5 1.5 14
Glutamic acid % protein 9.7 1.0 8.0 12.1 28
Glycine % protein 4.5 0.5 3.8 5.7 28
Histidine % protein 1.5 0.4 1.0 2.2 23
Isoleucine % protein 4.1 0.4 3.4 5.2 24
Leucine % protein 7.3 0.7 6.2 8.6 24
Lysine % protein 4.7 0.5 3.6 5.7 44
Methionine % protein 1.2 0.3 0.7 1.6 23
Phenylalanine % protein 4.6 0.4 3.8 5.4 22
Proline % protein 4.3 0.5 3.5 5.3 17
Serine % protein 4.2 0.3 3.8 4.7 16
Threonine % protein 4.0 0.4 3.4 4.8 18
Tryptophan % protein 1.2 0.1 0.9 1.5 17
Tyrosine % protein 3.3 0.9 1.5 6.0 18
Valine % protein 6.3 1.0 4.3 7.6 30
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 63.3 6.4 53.9 71.6 6 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 59.8 5.8 56.2 70.4 6 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.7 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.5 1.4 8.3 11.5 6 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 70.2 5.8 63.8 79.4 5
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 63 3 58 67 12
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 45.2 *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 8.1 *
MEn growing pig MJ/kg DM 7.4 *
NE growing pig MJ/kg DM 4.0 *
Nitrogen digestibility, growing pig % 39.6 1
Poultry nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
AMEn cockerel MJ/kg DM 3.8 1
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 46.4 4.3 40.9 51.0 6 *
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 8.3 0.8 7.3 9.3 6 *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 7.7 *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 62.2 5.3 51.5 66.6 7 *
Fish nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
DE salmonids MJ/kg DM 7.7 *
Energy digestibility, salmonids % 43.0 1
Nitrogen digestibility, salmonids % 87.0 1

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Aderibigbe et al., 1993; AFZ, 2011; Albar, 2006; Aufrère et al., 1988; Aufrère et al., 1991; Bach Knudsen, 1997; Ben Rayana et al., 1994; Bezerra et al., 2005; Bhatti et al., 1995; Bonanno et al., 1994; Calabro et al., 2000; Campbell et al., 1983; Carré et al., 1986; CIRAD, 1991; Cirad, 2008; De Boever et al., 1984; De Boever et al., 1988; De Boever et al., 1994; Djouvinov et al., 1998; Fekete et al., 1986; Fraga et al., 1991; Fredrickson et al., 1995; Gippert et al., 1988; Gomez Cabrera, 2009; Guillaume, 1978; Han et al., 1976; Hannah et al., 1991; Higgins et al., 1986; Hinders et al., 1968; Israelsen et al., 1978; Karunajeewa et al., 1987; Landry et al., 1988; Li et al., 2000; Maertens et al., 1981; Maertens et al., 2001; McLeod et al., 1976; Meschy, 2010; Moreland et al., 1991; Muztar et al., 1976; Muztar et al., 1979; Noblet et al., 1989; Noblet, 2001; Rowett Research Institute, 1975; Schang et al., 1982; Sibbald, 1979; Smolders et al., 1990; Stanley et al., 1982; Storey et al., 1982; Swanek et al., 2001; Treviño et al., 1977; Van Wyk et al., 1951; Vérité et al., 1990; Vervaeke et al., 1989; Walker et al., 1982; Wolter et al., 1979; Yamazaki et al., 1986

Last updated on 28/11/2012 22:34:45

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 90.0 0.6 88.4 91.7 453
Crude protein % DM 22.7 1.3 19.3 25.4 457
Crude fibre % DM 21.4 2.4 17.3 27.7 307
NDF % DM 38.3 7.1 28.6 47.2 8 *
ADF % DM 25.6 4.6 21.0 33.2 7 *
Lignin % DM 7.1 1.2 4.0 7.9 11 *
Ether extract % DM 3.2 0.4 2.5 3.7 24
Ash % DM 13.2 1.0 11.2 15.3 111
Starch (polarimetry) % DM 3.0 0.5 2.1 3.4 5
Total sugars % DM 4.6 1.5 3.2 6.0 4
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.8 17.8 19.1 2 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 25.7 4.4 16.8 32.4 34 *
Phosphorus g/kg DM 3.4 0.3 2.8 3.8 28
Potassium g/kg DM 30.6 1.4 29.1 31.9 3
Sodium g/kg DM 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.4 3
Magnesium g/kg DM 1.9 1
Manganese mg/kg DM 63 1
Zinc mg/kg DM 39 34 45 2
Copper mg/kg DM 20 20 7 43 3
Iron mg/kg DM 784 1
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Cystine % protein 1.3 1
Lysine % protein 4.2 1
Methionine % protein 1.3 1
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 69.7 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 66.2 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 11.8 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.3 *
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 56.6 *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 10.1 *
MEn growing pig MJ/kg DM 9.2 *
NE growing pig MJ/kg DM 5.5 *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 54.8 *
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 9.8 *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 9.0 *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 67.2 *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


AFZ, 2011; Sibbald, 1979

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:45:27

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 19.9 3.1 14.1 33.3 1277  
Crude protein % DM 20.6 3.4 12.0 31.8 1832  
Crude fibre % DM 26.7 4.1 15.6 38.2 1187  
NDF % DM 39.3 6.3 25.0 59.6 1305  
ADF % DM 30.9 5.0 18.4 44.8 1451  
Lignin % DM 7.6 1.8 3.5 12.6 1224  
Ether extract % DM 2.9 0.7 1.4 4.9 1058  
Ash % DM 11.5 1.9 7.5 19.7 1484  
Starch (polarimetry) % DM 0.3       1  
Water-soluble carbohydrates % DM 5.6 1.5 3.4 8.1 10  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.1 1.0 16.7 19.4 7 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 19.4 3.3 10.9 27.6 1095  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.5 0.6 1.0 5.2 1195  
Potassium g/kg DM 22.4 6.3 13.2 34.6 100  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.5 0.2 0.1 1.0 71  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.8 0.8 1.7 4.8 875  
Manganese mg/kg DM 76 63 24 246 100  
Zinc mg/kg DM 43 31 17 176 57  
Copper mg/kg DM 13 3 8 20 59  
Iron mg/kg DM 387 251 122 1121 106  
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Alanine % protein 6.4 0.2 6.2 6.6 5  
Arginine % protein 4.5 0.3 4.1 4.9 7  
Aspartic acid % protein 11.3 0.5 10.6 12.0 5  
Cystine % protein 1.3 0.1 1.1 1.5 6  
Glutamic acid % protein 9.6 0.4 9.2 10.2 5  
Glycine % protein 4.6 0.2 4.5 4.8 6  
Histidine % protein 2.0 0.2 1.8 2.2 7  
Isoleucine % protein 4.1 0.2 3.9 4.3 7  
Leucine % protein 6.5 2.3 1.3 8.0 7  
Lysine % protein 5.5 1.0 4.3 6.8 7  
Methionine % protein 1.6 0.5 0.9 2.5 7  
Phenylalanine % protein 4.5 0.3 4.1 4.9 7  
Proline % protein 4.8 0.3 4.5 5.3 5  
Serine % protein 3.6 1.1 1.7 4.4 5  
Threonine % protein 4.2 0.2 4.0 4.6 7  
Tryptophan % protein 1.5       1  
Tyrosine % protein 3.4 0.2 3.2 3.7 7  
Valine % protein 6.4 0.9 5.0 7.1 7  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 68.5 5.5 59.0 80.7 112 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 65.5 8.8 49.0 68.0 6 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 11.9         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.4         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 78.5 3.6 69.4 85.9 69  
a (N) % 44.1 5.8 35.3 50.8 6  
b (N) % 46.6 6.1 37.8 54.0 6  
c (N) h-1 0.169 0.087 0.080 0.287 5  
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=4%) % 82         *
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 78 5 70 88 18 *
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 48.1         *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 8.7         *
NE growing pig MJ/kg DM 4.4         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


AFZ, 2011; Ait Amar, 2005; Alibes et al., 1990; Aufrère et al., 2008; Aufrère, 1982; Baertsche et al., 1986; Brink et al., 1988; Bui Huy Nhu Phuc, 2006; CGIAR, 2009; CIRAD, 1991; Dewhurst et al., 2003; Djouvinov et al., 1998; Egan, 1974; Emile et al., 1991; Flores et al., 1986; Flores et al., 1986; Fulkerson et al., 2007; FUSAGx/CRAW, 2009; Gomez Cabrera, 2009; Gowda et al., 2004; Grenet et al., 1977; Grigsby et al., 1991; Hartman et al., 1967; Heaney et al., 1963; Hoffman et al., 1993; Holm, 1971; IAV, 2009; Igmoullan, 1982; Le Goffe, 1991; Lindberg et al., 1986; McCann, 1985; Meschy, 2010; Milford, 1967; Neumark, 1970; Nheta et al., 2005; Pires et al., 2006; Raafat et al., 1966; Rethman et al., 1984; Sen, 1938; Strange, 1959; Tisserand et al., 1989; Turgut et al., 2004; Vargas et al., 1965; Waghorn et al., 1989; Wang et al., 2007; Whiting et al., 2004; Williams, 1955

Last updated on 02/05/2013 16:54:28

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 89.4 2.9 76.1 94.8 1151
Crude protein % DM 18.2 2.6 11.3 25.3 1358
Crude fibre % DM 28.9 3.8 19.4 38.2 877
NDF % DM 44.8 5.7 31.3 59.4 1038
ADF % DM 33.4 4.3 22.5 44.5 1038
Lignin % DM 7.6 1.3 4.8 11.1 770
Ether extract % DM 2.1 0.4 1.2 3.2 721
Ash % DM 10.7 1.6 7.2 16.0 1109
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.2 0.4 17.2 18.8 12 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 16.8 3.3 8.4 24.5 674
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.6 0.5 1.6 4.0 682
Potassium g/kg DM 24.6 6.0 13.2 36.3 17
Sodium g/kg DM 0.3 0.3 0.1 0.7 7
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.3 0.5 1.4 3.6 636
Manganese mg/kg DM 43 1
Zinc mg/kg DM 27 4 20 30 7
Copper mg/kg DM 9 2 6 12 8
Iron mg/kg DM 587 1
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Alanine % protein 4.6 0.9 3.1 5.2 5
Arginine % protein 4.5 0.8 3.6 5.8 7
Aspartic acid % protein 10.0 0.9 8.4 10.6 5
Cystine % protein 1.2 0.1 1.1 1.3 4
Glutamic acid % protein 7.8 4.0 0.6 10.5 5
Glycine % protein 4.3 0.5 3.4 4.6 5
Histidine % protein 2.1 0.4 1.7 2.5 7
Isoleucine % protein 3.6 0.6 2.3 4.1 7
Leucine % protein 6.3 1.1 4.0 7.3 7
Lysine % protein 4.3 0.7 3.1 5.1 7
Methionine % protein 1.3 0.2 0.9 1.6 7
Phenylalanine % protein 4.2 0.5 3.1 4.7 7
Proline % protein 7.1 0.6 6.5 7.9 5
Serine % protein 4.3 0.5 3.4 4.7 5
Threonine % protein 3.8 0.5 2.8 4.3 7
Tryptophan % protein 1.4 1.3 1.4 2
Tyrosine % protein 2.6 0.6 1.9 3.5 5
Valine % protein 4.7 0.7 3.3 5.2 7
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 61.8 3.3 53.3 66.4 80 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 58.4 1.8 57.7 62.3 5 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.6 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.4 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 72.0 4.2 58.2 79.6 61
a (N) % 55.8 52.7 58.9 2
b (N) % 37.0 34.7 39.3 2
c (N) h-1 0.097 0.094 0.099 2
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=4%) % 82 *
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 79 7 53 81 19 *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 45.4 5.5 35.9 51.2 5 *
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 8.3 1.0 6.4 9.2 7 *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 68.2 7.0 55.8 74.4 7
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 7.6 *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Abdelqader et al., 2009; AFZ, 2011; Agbossamey et al., 1999; Ait Amar, 2005; Alibes et al., 1990; Alvir et al., 1988; Al-Yousef et al., 1993; Archimede et al., 1996; Arieli et al., 1989; Aufrère et al., 2008; Bampidis et al., 2005; Beauchemin et al., 1993; Belibasakis, 1984; Belibasakis, 1984; Ben-Ghedalia et al., 1989; Bezerra et al., 2005; Bochi-Brum et al., 1999; Bowman et al., 1988; Brooks III et al., 1984; Brouk et al., 1993; Carabaño et al., 1997; Carro et al., 1991; CGIAR, 2009; Chapoutot et al., 1990; Chapoutot et al., 1997; Christen et al., 2010; Cilliers et al., 1998; CIRAD, 1991; Cirad, 2008; Cunningham et al., 1993; de Vega et al., 1997; Demarquilly et al., 1967; Djouvinov et al., 1998; Duncan et al., 1991; Egan et al., 1975; El Hassan et al., 2000; El-Gasim et al., 1986; Erasmus et al., 1994; Erdman et al., 1986; Erdman et al., 1987; Fadel, 1992; Fernandez Carmona et al., 1996; Focant et al., 1988; Forster et al., 1991; Forster et al., 1994; García et al., 1995; Gartner et al., 1975; Getachew et al., 2004; Gomez Cabrera, 2009; Grimit, 1984; Hadjigeorgiou et al., 2000; Higgins et al., 1986; Hinders et al., 1968; Hogan et al., 1967; IAV, 2009; Igmoullan, 1982; Jaster et al., 1983; Karalazos et al., 1988; Karalazos et al., 1992; Kawas et al., 1990; Kawas et al., 1990; Kelzer et al., 2009; Kennedy, 1982; Kennedy, 1985; Khazaal et al., 1993; Kleinschmit et al., 2006; Kraiem et al., 1990; Lagasse et al., 1990; Lavrencic et al., 2001; Ledoux et al., 1991; Leitao et al., 2005; Madrid et al., 1996; Madrid et al., 1997; Mathers et al., 1981; McMeniman et al., 1988; Meschy, 2010; Miraglia et al., 1985; Mudgal et al., 1982; Mulrooney et al., 2009; Murdock et al., 1977; Nandra et al., 1993; Ngwa et al., 2003; Nichols et al., 1998; Reid et al., 1990; Rethman et al., 1984; Riddle et al., 1999; Rihani et al., 1988; Roa et al., 1997; Robles et al., 1981; Silanikove et al., 1990; Stockdale, 1993; Susmel et al., 1989; Susmel et al., 1991; Susmel et al., 1995; Swanson et al., 1990; Taghizadeh et al., 2005; Tedeschi et al., 2001; Thivend et al., 1968; Thivend et al., 1970; Thomson et al., 1991; Tisserand et al., 1989; Todd, 1956; Trillaud-Geyl, 1992; Van Wyk et al., 1951; Vanzant et al., 1996; Varga et al., 1982; Wang et al., 2007; Ward et al., 1982; Weston et al., 1989; Weston, 1989

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:35

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 30.8 9.3 17.7 54.6 92  
Crude protein % DM 19.1 2.4 13.6 24.7 118  
Crude fibre % DM 29.5 4.1 20.0 36.2 61  
NDF % DM 44.6 5.4 33.9 56.0 92  
ADF % DM 36.5 4.3 26.6 44.1 96  
Lignin % DM 7.9 1.3 5.2 10.2 57  
Ether extract % DM 2.3 0.9 1.1 4.4 48  
Ash % DM 11.4 2.6 8.0 18.1 110  
Total sugars % DM 6.9       1  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.2   18.2 19.0 2 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 15.0 2.5 10.4 23.1 55  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 3.0 0.5 2.1 4.3 57  
Potassium g/kg DM 32.1 7.2 22.9 38.3 4  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.8 0.5 0.3 1.3 3  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.1 0.4 1.5 3.4 44  
Manganese mg/kg DM 54   54 54 2  
Zinc mg/kg DM 33   32 34 2  
Copper mg/kg DM 10   10 11 2  
Iron mg/kg DM 523   176 869 2  
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Alanine % protein 6.6       1  
Arginine % protein 3.0       1  
Aspartic acid % protein 5.8       1  
Glutamic acid % protein 6.9       1  
Glycine % protein 3.9       1  
Histidine % protein 1.3       1  
Isoleucine % protein 3.8       1  
Leucine % protein 6.5       1  
Lysine % protein 3.4       1  
Methionine % protein 0.7       1  
Phenylalanine % protein 8.1       1  
Proline % protein 3.0       1  
Serine % protein 3.1       1  
Threonine % protein 2.4       1  
Tyrosine % protein 2.5       1  
Valine % protein 5.0       1  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 66.1 3.8 57.7 69.6 18 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 62.1         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 11.3         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.9         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 71.0 5.4 61.0 80.1 18  
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 51       1  
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 43.8         *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 8.0         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


AFZ, 2011; Agbossamey et al., 1999; Alibes et al., 1990; Brouk et al., 1993; CGIAR, 2009; Charmley E, 1990; Charmley et al., 1990; Dewhurst et al., 2003; Eriksson et al., 2004; Fraser et al., 2000; Gehman et al., 2010; Getachew et al., 2004; Glenn et al., 1989; Gomez Cabrera, 2009; Leonardi et al., 2005; Meschy, 2010; Nakamura et al., 1989; Orozco-Hernandez et al., 1997; Polan et al., 1985; Robinson et al., 1990; Robinson et al., 1993; Susmel et al., 1989; Susmel et al., 1989; Swain et al., 1994; Vargas et al., 1965; Veira et al., 1981; Wang et al., 2007; Whiting et al., 2004

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:35



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Image credits

Image credits

Picture title Credits License
Dehydrated alfalfa, pellets Gilles Tran / AFZ CC BY 3.0
Alfalfa flower Gilles Tran / AFZ CC BY 3.0
Alfalfa plant Gilles Tran / AFZ CC BY 3.0
Alfalfa leaves Gilles Tran / AFZ CC BY 3.0
Alfalfa silage, France Emmanuelle Bourgeat / AgroParisTech CC BY 3.0
Dehydrated alfalfa, long fibre Gilles Tran / AFZ CC BY 3.0
Alfalfa seeds, France Emmanuelle Bourgeat / AgroParisTech CC BY 3.0
Alfalfa dehydration process Valérie Heuzé, Gilles Tran / AFZ CC BY 3.0
Alfalfa regional output (2000) AndrewMT CC BY 3.0