Here’s the boring bits, Alfalfa, also known as Lucerne, has the scientific name Medicago Sativa. It is a member of the legume family Fabaceae and is a perennial flowering plant. Alfalfa is cultivated as an important forage crop in many countries around the world, it is grown for many uses including grazing, hay, and silage for cattle as well as horses and less commonly as green manure and cover crop.
The name alfalfa is mainly used in North America whereas the name Lucerne is the more commonly used name in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. At Bardney Dairies we like to confuse the issue and refer to the crop as Lucerne when we are farming but Alfalfa when we are marketing the feeds.
To the untrained eye the plant superficially resembles clover, especially while young, it has clusters of small purple flowers that are followed by fruits containing around 10–20 seeds. Alfalfa usually grows in warmer climates and has been cultivated as livestock fodder since at least the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans. You can even eat it yourself, Alfalfa sprouts are a common ingredient in dishes made in South Indian cuisine and are readily available in supermarkets in the UK.
Alfalfa is native to warmer climates however it grows rather well in Lincolnshire, it likes lots of sunshine and dry conditions. It is a very deep-rooted crop and can therefore find moisture underground even when the soil is dry on the surface. During winter the crop looks as if it dies off, lying dormant in the cold weather it soon flourishes once again in the spring rapidly growing up to over half a meter in height. Alfalfa is able to fix its own nitrogen from the air surrounding it so requires no artificial fertilizers which makes it almost organic in its growth. At Bardney Dairies we leave the Lucerne crop in the ground for 4 years and grow it within the arable rotation on the farm.
The alfalfa is harvested three times during the season usually May, July, and October obviously this can vary slightly depending on the weather. Once the crop in the field reaches approximately 60-65cm of growth and is roughly 30% in flower, hopefully, both of these factors occur at the same time, the plant is mown, rowed, and is then ready for the harvesting process. The forage harvester, to all of you non-farming people out there, a forage harvester looks a little like a combine harvester, will follow the rows of Alfalfa and chop the crop into shorter lengths before blowing the product into the trailer. Once in the trailer, the harvested crop is transported back to the drying plant where it is tipped ready for the drying process. Drying the crop is literally a two-minute job, the Alfalfa now in its chopped state travels into the grass drier, which is incredibly hot, approximate 700 degrees, and is flash dried in chop form, the speed of this process ensures that the same level of vitamins and minerals are in the finished product as are in the fresh crop from the field. Basically, the process of flash drying preserves fresh forage. If we are producing a chopped product then it is cooled and packaged immediately.
Alfalfa is forage and is much the same as grass in many of its benefits when feeding, the main difference between Alfalfa and grass is the mineral analysis, Alfalfa contains higher calcium levels than grass and therefore is good for bone and hoof growth and development. The calcium content in the Alfalfa helps to settle and buffer the acid in the horse’s stomach so is great for equines prone to gastric ulcers. Alfalfa is also higher and in fibre and protein than grass generally. Research shows that horses eat for between 14-18 hours out of 24 hours and that forage should make up at least 60% of their diet. Forage comes in lots of different forms and when feeding you can supplement forage with forage, for example, you could use a basic forage, hay or even Alfalfa hay and supplement it with better quality forage, like haylage, dried Alfalfa, or grass in pellet or chop form, dependant on the need and level of work the animal is in. Alfalfa is a great source of forage for a horse and because of its fibre content, it requires the horse to chew for a longer length of time creating more saliva which in turn helps with the digestion of feeds and general gut health.
As a natural product Alfalfa can vary from cut to cut as with any forage product. Because Alfalfa lies dormant in the winter the first growth in the spring can be very stalky in comparison to cuts later in the year however the nutritional value is much the same. No two fields or cuts of Alfalfa are the same but cutting the crop at a similar growth stage can help to keep the consistency of the product throughout the growing season.
Emerald Green Feeds Alfalfa-mazing chop contains all the key nutrients and vitamins needed for your horse or pony to thrive. Containing exceptional levels of calcium Alfalfa-mazing is the perfect feed for the growth and maintenance of bone strength. Its high protein level promotes muscle growth and repair coupled with Alfalfa-mazing’s superior fibre content this helps maintain all-around health and fitness for your horse or pony.