Renowned as one of the most important high-quality forage crops around the world alfalfa isn’t just a beneficial horse feed. This amazing plant contributes multiple benefits to the environment and is highly valued by farmers. So, what is alfalfa and what are the advantages of growing and feeding the crop?
What Is Alfalfa?
Alfalfa is part of the same family as beans, clover and peas and was first cultivated for fodder for ponies and horses over 2000 years ago. Horse owners continue to feed this crop due to it being safe and nutritious, as well the fibre giving the horse slow release energy that can be used for maintenance, weight gain and or work.
Alfalfa has a very low water-soluble carbohydrate and starch content, which is ideal for horses and ponies that are prone to laminitis and those with muscle problems. Due to it being a member of the legume family, alfalfa is abundant in quality protein. This makes it great for building up top line and muscle tone and makes it particularly useful for breeding and youngstock.
Improves The Soil
Alfalfa is a perennial plant that stays in the ground for up to 4 years after being sown. It doesn’t require much assistance, as it secures its own nitrogen from the atmosphere using bacteria in its roots to convert it. As it is in the ground for 4 years with no tilling of the land required, alfalfa can help to sequester carbon and reduces soil erosion compared to other annual crops. In turn, this helps to provide nitrogen for subsequent crops and improves the quality of the soil.
The microorganisms in the soil love alfalfa because of the amino acids, fibre, protein and sugar in its stalks, which they require to thrive. Alfalfa almost has a perfect balance of carbon to nitrogen ratio, which organisms in the soil require.
Loved By Wildlife
Alfalfa serves as an important resting and feeding area for many birds and hares seem to love it too. . There are many species that prefer alfalfa over other habitats because it’s a nutritious feed source and provides nesting cover. Hundreds of species of insects inhabit alfalfa, which animals such as bats, swallows and songbirds rely on as part of the food chain.
High Vitamin And Mineral Content
The alfalfa plant is also rich in beta carotene that is converted into vitamin A when in the body. It also contains vitamin E and Thiamin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic acid, Folic acid and Biotin. This high vitamin content in this crop means that wildlife can access these beneficial vitamins, which is beneficial for their health. This crop also contains almost three times as much calcium as grass.
As you can see, the alfalfa crop has a variety of benefits for the environment, which is why it’s such an important crop to grow. Whether you’re a horse owner or farmer, this plant is great to feed to your animals or grow to improve soil quality and manage crop pests.