Alfalfa hay is expensive, and some producers – notably dairy farmers and horse owners – are willing to pay for it. But with forage supplies short due to the drought, is Alfalfa hay a viable option for beef producers?
Alfalfa hay is not worth the expense to beef producers, said Robert Seay. The University of Arkansas Extension Staff Chair for Benton County told OFN, “In dairy situations, those guys are so high-tech they enter into a feed cost analysis ratio based against the cost of other feed ingredients that would supply the same quality… It’s a whole different ballgame than the average beef person who can get by with just overwintering cattle on whatever hay you’ve got there.”
Seay said beef producers, “don’t need the quality that’s in Alfalfa hay, so there’s no use putting the money into Alfalfa hay. The flip side of that gets back to what it costs to truck Alfalfa hay in here, because there’s no local supply… If you compared apples to apples they would have to know the feed value of the other hay options. It’s very unusual for beef producers to even look at a hay analysis; they generally just look at tonnage prices.”
If a producer did elect to use Alfalfa, Seay said it would be most likely in carefully measured portions for select animals as a supplement, like a range cube.
It has its advantages, said Dr. Monty Kerley, Professor of Nutrition with the Division of Animal Sciences of the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “They’re going to have a lot more consistent nutritional quality with Alfalfa than likely what you’ll see with any other forage source,” Kerley told OFN.
Kerley also said producers should be certain they’re buying hay at the lowest cost per unit of energy or of total digestible nutrients (TDN), and not just the lowest cost per ton. He said while cows need 50-55 percent TDN to get through the winter on forage alone, a lot of the available hay is only running about 40 percent TDN because it was either cut under emergency Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) haying provisions, or was harvested late in the season. “As I’ve told people, it’s a lot easier to supplement poor quality hay than it is to supplement nothing,” he said. But in many cases, “to pay a little more for better quality hay may be cheaper than buying hay and supplement in the long run.”
Kerley added, producers buying hay out of the Western U.S. will be getting warm-season grasses that will require a protein supplement and “of course, Alfalfa is going to bring the protein along for the trip.” He said it’s not out of the question for Alfalfa to run 15-18 percent protein and 60 percent or better TDN, 10 percentage units higher than even the better quality grass hays. He did suggest the producer visually examine Alfalfa hay, saying, “When Alfalfa gets mature there will be a lot of stems, and the stem will be fairly large in the hay.”


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