Can Sheep Eat Alfalfa?

Sheep Eat Alfalfa

A sound nutrition plan provided to sheep at the appropriate stage of production is of the utmost importance. Basically, nutrition determines health and production rate of all livestock. It is the backbone of an agricultural venture hence the need to develop an efficient and economical nutrition program that is sustainable long term. Similar to humans and other livestock, sheep need a nutrition plan that is well-balanced with correct rations so as to meet their nutritional requirements. That being said, since alfalfa is highly famed for its nutritional value and use in the enhancement of cattle production, it is natural to consider whether sheep can eat alfalfa for similar purposes. Prior to introducing alfalfa to livestock, shepherds should know the basic nutritional requirement of sheep versus the nutritional value of alfalfa.

Nutritional Value

Sheep can feed on alfalfa due to its superior nutritional value. There are currently various types of commercially produced alfalfa feed with the main sources being pellets and cubes. This serves as proof of its excellent nutritional value and effect on livestock growth, production and reproduction. Alternatively, alfalfa hay can be used as it is a cheaper option and is just as nutritious as pellets and cubes. Alfalfa is a rich source of protein, carbohydrates and minerals including calcium, phosphorus and magnesium among others. To add on, it has lower fibre content which makes it palatable to sheep. Studies show that nutrients and minerals found in alfalfa are sufficient for the development and maintenance of sheep. It is however crucial to note that the nutritional value of alfalfa differs according to the stage of maturity. Early bloom and immature alfalfa is an ideal source of protein; as the plant matures, protein levels tend to decline. Its fibre content also increases making it less palatable to sheep. It is therefore recommended to make use of young alfalfa as feed for sheep. Although sheep can eat alfalfa for enhanced growth, production and reproduction, caution must be taken not to provide the plant to excess. This is because it may lead to health-related issues such as bloat.

Physical Development

Alfalfa is known for its superior protein content that allows for the sustenance of production levels similar to those achieved in the feedlot. As a matter of fact, alfalfa contains sufficient protein content for growth and development of livestock. For this reason, sheep can eat alfalfa to absorb protein necessary for timely maturity. As already mentioned, alfalfa is highly palatable which means animals can readily feed on the plant hence the efficient absorption of nutrients and minerals. To add on, it is a source calcium required for teeth, bone and muscle development. When provided according to the stipulated guidelines, sheep that are fed alfalfa tend to gain weight and mature faster. Keep in mind that these benefits are only achievable provided that immature alfalfa is used. Animals do not like the taste of mature alfalfa and it is of low nutritional value; as such, providing it to animals may result in negative effects.

Health Maintenance

Sheep can feed on alfalfa for health purposes. The plant is an ideal source of trace elements required for the long term health maintenance of animals. According to research studies, trace elements are often considered as unnecessary due to the fact that consequences of deficiency are not experienced immediately. Note that while effects are experienced over time, health, reproduction and production may be severely affected. In some cases, sheep may not reach their full potential even after treatment. Moreover, sheep can eat alfalfa to absorb antioxidant compounds present in the plant. These help to fight free radicals that cause oxidation leading to the deterioration of the texture, taste and quality of the meat. Furthermore, sheep can feed on alfalfa as a means to boost the immune system thereby gaining some form of resistance against common diseases. Like all living beings, a nutritious diet is of the essence in ensuring health thus improved production. Alfalfa allows farmers to keep sheep healthy and increase production levels on a budget because it is found in most parts of the world as forage.

What Type of Hay Is Best For Sheep?

Hay is the primary feedstuff for sheep, especially during the dry season when forage quality and quality is insufficient for animal diets. For this reason, there is a need for farmers to learn about different types of hay and their nutritional value which plays an important role in sound decision making. Hay for ruminants is basically categorised as grass, legume, cereal and mixed hay. Legume hay is considered as the most nutritious type of hay. As such, sheep can feed on alfalfa, vetch, soybean and most types of legume hay. Other types of hay such as timothy and clover are also nutritious and so are usually used to supplement forage diets. An important point to be aware of is that although sheep can eat alfalfa (the best hay for ruminants), rations should be closely monitored to prevent the risk of bloat. The following table shows different types of hay for sheep:

Category Type of Hay
Grass Hay Timothy, Brome, Orchard, Bluegrass, Ryegrass.
Legume Hay Alfalfa, Birdsfoot trefoil, Vetch, Soybean, Cowpeas, Clover.
Cereal Hay Cereal grain crops such as oat hay
Mixed Hay Made from combining the above types, example legume and grass hay


What Is Bad For Sheep To Eat?

Sheep can eat alfalfa and various other feedstuff including those primarily grown for humans and those said to be toxic to some species. However, this does not mean that all types of foods are good for sheep. Fruits and vegetables are healthy and palatable to sheep but feeding these items to excess is bad. To add on, even alfalfa and other types of hay are considered as bad for sheep when provided to excess. Sheep cannot feed on green parts of most plants belonging to the nightshade family, for example, tomatoes and potatoes. This is because unripe parts contain solanine which is highly toxic to animals. It is not recommended to provide sheep with plants belonging to the brassica family as they also contain toxic compounds, for instance, some parts of rhubarb plants. Meat or any feedstuff containing meat is bad for sheep. Meat increases the risk of diseases and infection that can possibly be fatal.