Alfalfa performs at its best in combination with grass

A seed mixture containing alfalfa and grasses is a good choice for farm profitability.

  • Improves the feed value through an optimal mix of energy and protein
  • Makes it easier to conserve as silage, and exploit for grazing
  • Offers more reliable feed production during dry periods


Better feed value from grass and alfalfa

Protein content

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%.

Sugar content

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.

Feed value

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

  Lucerne
Daisy
Festulolium
Perun
50% Perun
50% Daisy
Festulolium
Hykor
50% Hykor
50% Daisy
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 Very high content of protein Energy-maize silage. grain concentrates Eventually more protein Energy - Maize silage
Lucerne Low energy concentration, low silage coefficient grain concentrates Silage additives

 

Alfalfa is a more reliable feed source during dry periods

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/
Grass
White Clover/
Grass
Lucerne
Digestibility DM 72 69 72 64
Silage intake kg DM/cow/day 11.4 12.9 13,2 13.6
Kg milk/cow/day 26.5 31.0 30.7 29.3

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.

Alfalfa improves farm self-sufficiency

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

% Autonomy Protein Energy
Without alfalfa 15 40
With alfalfa 30 61

 

Hectares on the farm before and after introducing 10 ha alfalfa

Source: A. Uijttewaal, Y. Carel, S. Battegay*

Hectares Before After
Alfalfa 0 10
Oilseed/cereals 75 76
Silage maize 47 36
Grassland 53 53
Total 175 175

*ARVALIS-Institut du Végétal. Journées AFPF – March 2016

Research shows that alfalfa reduces feeding costs

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”
Title: "Introduction de luzerne dans le système fourrager"

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

 

Click here to see the DLF alfalfa varieties.