Nationally, alfalfa is one of the most produced forage crops. But Arizona grows it the best. Yes, full disclosure, I am biased. 

But let the facts speak. In the Midwest, you average 2 to 4, sometimes 5, cuttings in the same field a season. In Arizona, our farmers have as many as 9 to 12 cuttings in a year. Arizona agriculture simply knows how to grow this very healthy forage crop.

And in this desert state, that’s important as we must maximize our efficiencies to conserve resources, like water. Plus, while not a “people food” it feeds our livestock, critical to the food supply chain. One Arizona alfalfa farmer based in Pinal County, Nancy Caywood, says, “Alfalfa is milk chocolate, ice cream and more in the making.” 

Dan Undersander with Forage Genetics International explains why alfalfa is such a valuable forage crop to the livestock industry. His points follow.

  • Alfalfa adds valuable fiber to our livestock’s diets.
  • Alfalfa has a faster rate of fiber digestion than grasses (including corn silage). This allows the energy from fiber fractions to become available rapidly over 12 to 24 hours but not so rapidly as to acidify the rumen (as from grain). 
  • Alfalfa has a higher rate of passage through the digestive tract
  • Alfalfa is very palatable
  • Alfalfa is high in protein. Protein is the most expensive component of most rations. Good-quality alfalfa runs 16-20% CP, while corn silage is 8-9% CP, and most grasses are 12-14% CP (grasses may be somewhat higher if harvested when immature). A milking dairy cow needs 16-17% CP and growing animals need 12-16% CP. Thus, alfalfa can go further in meeting the protein needs of animals than most other forages. 
  • Alfalfa provides needed minerals. It contains a greater concentration of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, zinc, and selenium than grasses. It is a good source of calcium for all animals, especially horses. 
  • Alfalfa provides needed vitamins. Leafy, green alfalfa hay is unusually high in carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. Vitamin A is the most common beef cow vitamin deficiency. Good-quality alfalfa hay can furnish all the vitamin A needs of beef animals. 
  • Alfalfa is usually a good source of vitamin E and selenium, depending on the soil’s nutrient status on which the hay was grown
  • Alfalfa, with a higher natural buffering capacity and higher fiber level than corn silage, reduces the problem of ration adaptation when feed sources are changed
  • Alfalfa promotes animal health. The high mineral and vitamin contents of alfalfa are very important to animal health.

Recently, we sat down with Trevor Bales of Bales Hay Sales in Buckeye, Arizona, to learn about his family’s generational farm business and to talk about alfalfa on KTAR’s Rosie on the House show. We slipped in a bit of a discussion about citrus as that was another agriculture commodity we wanted to chat about. But most was around this very popular and healthy forage crop for our livestock. The full radio program is embedded below.