Can Cows Eat Alfalfa?

As animal caretakers, we want to ensure that our animals never go hungry, and that they eat nutritious and healthy food. Here are a few things to consider when asking the question: “Can Cows Eat Alfalfa?”

As known herbivores, Can Cows Eat Alfalfa?

Generally, cows can eat alfalfa. It is not toxic to them, and they can metabolize and digest them just like most plants. Alfalfa also serves to add Calcium and Protein to the cows’ dietary nutrition, and is used for their physical growth together with corn. Alfalfa also helps dairy cows produce more milk, and aids in their overall health and wellness.

However, because of the potential risk of cattle or pasture bloat, Alfalfa should only be given to cows in moderation.

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What is Alfalfa?

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a leafy flowering plant in the legume family closely related to peas. Also called Lucerne or Purple Medic, this is an excellent source of Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iron, and Vitamins A, C, E, and K.

This is often used as food for livestock, due to their availability, as well as a garnish for human recipes and food preparation.

Nutritional Value of Alfalfa for Cows

Alfalfa offers excellent nutrition for your cows, and their nutritional breakdown is as follows:

Protein12 – 15%
Carbohydrate2.1g per 100g
Total Digestible Nutrients60%

Benefits of Alfalfa for Cows

  1. Highest Yield Potential – at 5 tons per acre, Alfalfa has the highest yield potential among all possible feeder plants. With this, it can be said that your cows will never go hungry.
  2. Highest Quality Potential – Together with high yield, Alfalfa also has potentially the highest quality feed potential with around 18-20% of protein levels needed, compared to that of only 10% or less from other plants and food sources.
  3. High Beef Yield Potential – Because of the sheer quantity of feed mixed with the quality of nutrients available, the cows that eat them also are potentially meatier and larger. 
  4. Tolerates Dry Weather/Drought – Alfalfa roots go down deeper than most plant food sources. Going as far down as four feet below the surface, the plant does not need to worry about where it will get moisture and hydration in times of aridity and drought.
  5. Less Fertilizer Needed – It’s relatively long root system helps the alfalfa to get more nutrients from the soil, and it can also extract its own Nitrogen from its environment. That means the alfalfa needs less fertilizer to grow and cultivate, making it much cheaper to come by.

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The Danger of Cows Eating Alfalfa

Though it looks like alfalfa could be very beneficial to a cow’s diet, there is still a threat to our bovine buddies upon consumption: Pasture or Cattle Bloat.

What is Bloat?

Cattle Bloat (generally known as Pasture Bloat) is indigestion caused by an excessive amount and accumulation of gas in the cows’ rumen (a large section of their digestive system). This condition causes the cow major discomfort, difficulty breathing, frequent urination and/or defacation, and in some cases, sudden collapse and even death. Though usually non-fatal, bovine deaths due to bloat often are caused by negligence and lack of monitoring. 

Basically, the components of Alfalfa cause the cow’s gut to fill with gas like a balloon. As it does so, presses against the surrounding organs causing all the aforementioned discomfort to the cow.

In Summary : Cows can eat, but shouldn’t have too much of Alfalfa

Yes cows can eat alfalfa, as this is a plant, and cows are herbivores. They have the physical capability to chow down and metabolize the plant. However, large quantities of it will lead to complications and discomfort, so it is best to keep the alfalfa to a minimum when feeding cows.

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