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Alfalfa

– ensiling without field losses

Alfalfa

Alfalfa is the number one feed crop as regards its yield of protein and raw fibre which help to improve the structure of the feed ration. The protein content increases the milk production and the protein content of the milk.

The raw fibres stimulate digestion and rumination, prevent over-acidification of the rumen and improve the dung consistency. The many vitamins and minerals contained in alfalfa have a positive effect on the animals' metabolism and health. The high beta-carotene has a positive effect on the animals' fertility.

The energy content is relatively low, rarely higher than 5.3 MJ NEL.

Research has shown that animals take in up to 30 % more when fed good-quality alfalfa (regardless of whether this is fed fresh, as hay, silage or pellets) than is the case with similar quality grass. This high intake is due to the rapid passage through the rumen and the taste of the alfalfa.

Many farmers particularly appreciate the high production efficiency of alfalfa, even during dry periods. The dry matter yield can exceed 160 dt/ha (harvesting four to five times is possible). The taproots enable the crop to take in water from great depths (over 4 m) and help to improve the soil structure.

The alfalfa's root nodule bacteria enable this crop to bind large volumes of nitrogen (up to 250 kg N/ha and per year in pure crops). As a result, nitrogen fertilisation can often be dispensed with for later crops. The raw protein yield of 2,500 kg/ha is more than twice as high as that of soybeans or other leguminous kernel plants.


Requirements of alfalfa

Alfalfa hates "cold and wet feet" and is therefore mainly suitable for hot, rather dry areas with a total precipitation of up to 1,000 mm. It thrives in optimum conditions up to heights of 1,000 m.

It is quite hardy, provided that it is at least 15 centimetres high when the winter comes. A permeable, not too heavy soil, sufficient in lime (pH 6.5 or up), which quickly heats up in spring is important.

Alfalfa prefers a fine-crumb, properly settled sowing bed, comparable to the sowing beds used for sugar beets, without compaction and - as much as possible - free from weeds.


Silage preparation

The main problem of silaging alfalfa is that its stalks and leaves dehydrate at different speeds, which may result in severe losses. Due to its low sugar content and high protein content alfalfa can be classified as hard to silage. Here silage additives of group 1a, such as KOFASIL PLUS GRANULAR or KOFASIL LIQUID, are vital to enable reliable silaging results to be obtained. So far, numerous trials with biological silage additives have proven unsuccessful.

In general mowing should only take place in dry conditions. The stubble height must be at least 7 cm (preferably higher: up to 10 cm) to prevent dirt in the mowed crop (danger of butyric acid build-up due to coliformic bacteria and Clostridia!). Leave the cut alfalfa in a wide swath and preferably do not turn it (the field losses would be too great). Swathing should take place when there is light dew (to reduce the field losses). When using 3 kg of KOFASIL PLUS GRANULAR or 3 litres of KOFASIL LIQUID per ton of fresh matter, the dry matter content can be kept very low: significantly below 30 %. If no silage additive is used, the optimal dry matter content is 40 to 50 %, but this will have a highly negative effect on the compactability of the silo.

Please remember that preparing alfalfa silage can lead to a severe loss of pure protein, which will be higher as the dry matter content is lower. Losses of 15 - 20 % have already been measured during the period that cut alfalfa is left in the field. A 45% loss of pure protein is measured with 20% dry matter content, 30% with 40% DM content and it is still 25% with 50% DM content. We think that this in itself is sufficient reason to justify using KOFASIL PLUS GRANULAR or KOFASIL LIQUID in the doses described above.


Using alfalfa as feed

Alfalfa can be fed instead of grass silage or in combination with grass silage. Sowing combinations of grass + alfalfa should never be preferred to sowing pure crops.

Alfalfa, with its high share of easy to digest fibres, is ideal to ensure maximum consumption, rumination and rumen stimulation.

Alfalfa is an ideal feed for high-performing cows. It is not necessarily superior to grass silage, but it must be seen as a real alternative specifically in locations which are typically dry in summer.

The minimum requirements for alfalfa silage are:

35 - 45 % dry matter
18 % raw protein
24 - 28 % raw fibre
5.6 - 5.8 MJ NEL