A seed mixture containing alfalfa and grasses is a good choice for farm profitability.
The dry-matter protein content of alfalfa is 18% to 20%. In grasses it is 10% to 12%. By mixing the two, you can increase your protein content by between 1% and 5%.
Grasses have the highest dry-matter sugar levels; alfalfa has the lowest. When you mix the two, you achieve a sugar content that is roughly midway between the two.
The dry-matter feed value from alfalfa-and-grass forage is 165 g protein/kg, and its energy is 0,85 UFL/kg (UFL = unité fourragère lait = milk feeding units). Pure grasses have a slightly higher energy value of 0,88 UFL/kg, but are a much lower protein source at 113 g/kg.
Research carried out by DLF showed how various combinations of alfalfa and festulolium (Festuca and Lolium types) altered the yield of dry matter, its protein content, and its digestibility:
More milk from forage
Source: DLF R&D trial network
|Yield, Ton DM/ha||9,5||14,5||14,4||13,6||12,7|
|% Protein in DM||19,7||11,4||17,9||11,9||16,8|
|% Digestible Organic Matter||70,0||74,9||72,7||70,1||67,0|
Silage characteristics of maize, grass, and alfalfa
Characteristics and how to improve the diet
|Feeding source||Main characteristics||How to improve the diet|
|Maize||High energy concentration (carbohydrates - mainly starch) Low protein content and cell wall content (NDF)||Protein - soya concentrates, legumes. Fibre especially NDF- grass. Lucerne, straw|
|Perennial grass-legume mixtures||High content of fibre (NDF) and protein (legumes in particular)
Medium energy concentration
|Energy-maize silage. grain concentrates Eventually more protein|
|Lucerne||Very high content of protein
Low energy concentration, low silage coefficient
|Energy - Maize silage, grain concentrates Silage additives|
During spring and summer droughts, the dry-matter yield from grass-and-alfalfa seed mixtures can be up to four times higher than from grass-only mixtures.
A recent Belgian study (presented by Knoden, Hautot, Decamps at Journées AFPF – Paris 21–22 March 2016, showed how the addition of alfalfa to grass-seed mixtures altered the yield in three locations. They analysed the harvests from three years and found that fields with alfalfa produced significantly more feed in all but one location. The site that showed no advantage was the one that enjoyed sufficient rainfall throughout the growing period.
Grassland legumes boost milk production
Comparison of digestibility, intake, and milk production
|Pure ryegrass||Red Clover/
|Silage intake kg DM/cow/day||11.4||12.9||13,2||13.6|
Comparison of digestibility, intake, and milk production (kg Energy Corrected Milk) per cow per day for silage made from pure ryegrass, red and white clover-and-grass mixtures, and alfalfa. Dewhurst, 2003.
The tables below show the effect on protein and energy production by introducing 10 hectares of alfalfa into the rotation.
Autonomy with and without alfalfa
for Protein and Energy needs
Hectares on the farm before and after introducing 10 ha alfalfa
Source: A. Uijttewaal, Y. Carel, S. Battegay*
*ARVALIS-Institut du Végétal. Journées AFPF – March 2016
Surveys undertaken in France show how the introduction of a small percentage of alfalfa cuts feeding costs. The average saving was 6€/1000L; survey results ranged from 0€ to 12€/1000 L milk.
Nine projects introducing alfalfa in the forage ration to reduce feeding cost
Published by Institut de l’Elévage 2011 “Les réseaux d’élévage”
|Region of France||System||Area (and % of total) containing alfalfa||Economic impact|
|Landes||Milk+ sales crops||5 ha (8%)||+ 4 € /1000L|
|Haute Marne||Milk+ sales crops||8,8 ha (4%)||+ 12€ /1000L|
|Cher||Milk+ sales crops||8 ha (4%)||+ 10€ /1000L|
|Loiret||Milk+ sales crops||2 ha (1%)||+ 5 € /1000L|
|Indre et Loire||Milk+ sales crops||8 ha (4%)||+ 11 € /1000L|
|Nord||Milk+ sales crops||5 ha (5%)||+ 3-5 € /1000L|
|Loire- Atlantique||Specialised milk||4,5 ha (6%)||+ 0 € /1000L|
|Marne||Milk+beef+ sales crops||17,5 ha (5%)||+ 9 € /1000L|
|Mayenne||Milk+beef+ sales crops||3,5 ha (5%)||+ 6 € /1000L|