If cows, sheep, or horses live on your homestead, you will likely have come across alfalfa. This versatile animal food contains loads of nutritional benefits and is excellent for keeping your farm livestock in prime condition.
But what about your backyard chickens? Can chickens eat alfalfa too? Maybe you’ve thought about growing alfalfa to feed your hens? Let’s find out if this animal superfood is healthy for our homestead poultry!
- Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa?
- What Is Alfalfa?
- Is Alfalfa Toxic to Chickens?
- Is Alfalfa Good for Chickens?
- How Much Alfalfa Should I Feed My Chickens?
- Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa Sprouts?
- Are Alfalfa Cubes Good for Chickens?
- Can You Use Alfalfa Hay for Chickens?
- What Kind of Hay for Inside a Chicken Coop?
- Are Bales of Hay Good for Chickens?
Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa?
Yes! Chickens can eat alfalfa; this forage feed is a highly nutritious source of fiber that is high in protein and calcium. Alfalfa gets fed to chickens as pellets, hay, or alfalfa sprouts. However, large amounts of alfalfa may cause digestive upsets and health problems in chickens – so we recommend against overfeeding.
Instead of relying entirely upon alfalfa – we encourage a diverse diet consisting mainly of a nutritionally balanced feed. Foraging and pasture usually make up a small percentage of your chicken’s diet.
What Is Alfalfa?
Alfalfa is a (yummy) forage commonly fed to cattle, sheep, and horses. It is part of the legume family, closely related to familiar plants such as peas, beans, and clover. Alfalfa is packed full of nutrients and is grown in many countries worldwide as animal feed.
Alfalfa gets fed to animals in many different forms. For large animals such as cows and sheep, alfalfa gets harvested and turned into dry hay, haylage, pellets, or cubes. It is occasionally grown for grazing animals too. But this is not usually the most efficient way to feed alfalfa to animals.
Alfalfa is a valuable animal feed because it has a hugely efficient growing lifecycle. The plant can develop an intricate root system that extends over twenty feet deep into the ground, allowing it to access nutrients many plants cannot reach. It is also easy to grow and store. It’s also highly palatable to animals.
Is Alfalfa Toxic to Chickens?
Our hens are semi-free-range, roaming free around the land for several hours each day. Somehow, they always seem to end up somewhere they shouldn’t be, like in the house or peeping into the polytunnel!
But what if your hens break into your feed store – would a snack on some alfalfa cubes harm them?
Alfalfa is not toxic to chickens, but some precautions must get taken when feeding alfalfa to chickens.
Firstly, they may struggle to digest alfalfa’s long and dry fibers. Some alfalfa hay may not be soft enough to eat.
The high protein levels in alfalfa may also cause health problems to chickens if it gets fed in large amounts.
And as with any new type of feed, a sudden change in diet can cause a digestive upset.
Is Alfalfa Good for Chickens?
Alfalfa is fed to large farm animals as it is a high fiber forage feed. It is also a great source of highly digestible protein and packed full of calcium. If you want to grow big, strong animals? Alfalfa is the perfect feed!
But what about our precious hens – could feeding alfalfa be good for them too?
Alfalfa has some nutritional benefits to chickens and can get fed as a supplementary feed alongside their regular chicken feed. Alfalfa contains vitamins A and E. It’s also packed full of the minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and iron.
So, if you are a homesteader or backyard chicken keeper, adding some alfalfa to your hen’s daily rations can be a great way to boost their diet. These lovely hens give us fresh eggs every day! They deserve the best snacks and goodies that we can offer.
How Much Alfalfa Should I Feed My Chickens?
While alfalfa is a good feed for chickens, it should only get used to supplement the main diet. Luckily, hens seem to have an innate instinct about what is good for them. And we’ve noticed that our hens usually will not overindulge in any one thing.
For example, when our hens are out for their daily wander, they feast greedily on any bugs they find for the first half-hour. After this initial hunt, they spend their time picking through the grasses and plants, nibbling at leaves, flowers, and shoots. As long as they eat their daily ration of commercial feed, they are free to get a fully balanced diet from their foraging expeditions.
As with any new feed, it is wise to introduce alfalfa gradually. Give a small amount to your chickens a couple of times a week for a few weeks. Then slowly allow them access to more. If you notice that they are not eating up their commercial feed, then cut the amount of alfalfa back down again.
In other words – your birds should always eat their commercial and balanced feed first. That’s always more vital to their health. Alfalfa is just a supplementary snack atop their balanced diet.
Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa Sprouts?
If you’re looking for a fun and easy way to feed alfalfa to your chickens, then alfalfa sprouts are a great little chicken treat. Alfalfa sprouts are the growing shoots of the alfalfa seed, and chickens adore them!
Depending on your available space – there are a few ways to grow alfalfa shoots for chickens. If you have a rotational pen system, where the hens move from one area to another, sow alfalfa seeds in one of the empty pens. When the shoots are a couple of inches long, let the hens back into the pen and watch them enjoy their feast!
If you’re short on space or have two or three hens, grow some alfalfa shoots in a seed tray. These little seeds sprout effortlessly in a thin layer of compost, and when they are big enough, all you need to do is pop the tray into the chicken coop for your hens to nibble on.
However, it is not just the growing sprouts of alfalfa that chickens will enjoy. If you have the time and space, let some alfalfa seeds grow into full-size plants for your birds to snack on when they get hungry – or bored. Alfalfa sprouts are a cost-effective and nutritious snack for your hens. And for very little money!
Are Alfalfa Cubes Good for Chickens?
In moderation, alfalfa cubes are an excellent snack for your birds. Alfalfa cubes are a convenient and mess-free way to feed alfalfa to chickens, although not all hens will be interested in eating the dried cubes or alfalfa pellets. But remember, small chicken breeds can’t handle massive alfalfa cubes for beef cattle. Your chicken’s alfalfa cubes may need to get crumbled into smaller pieces, or you can soak them in water to make them soft and palatable.
Traditionally, many homesteaders supplement their hen’s diet with alfalfa during the cold winter months. The extra protein and calcium can help nurture them through a tough time of year, especially when molting.
Can You Use Alfalfa Hay for Chickens?
Sometimes. Generally speaking, chickens are not interested in massive alfalfa hay stacks. The tough grassy stalks are too difficult for them to digest, and they prefer to eat grass when it is fresh and green.
However, when it comes to fluffy and loose alfalfa hay? It is a whole different story! Alfalfa is different from grass; it has thin stalks and ample leafy material. The lighter nature of alfalfa hay means that, even when dried, it is palatable and easy for chickens to digest.
The good thing about alfalfa hay is that you can buy it in mini bales from the pet food store. These small bales are handy to store, perfect for giving your hens a handful of alfalfa hay in the morning.
You can hang bunches of hay in the coop to peck at whenever they wish or use a mini hay rack for chickens. Alternatively, you can pop the whole bale into the chicken coop and let them pick away at it at their leisure!
What Kind of Hay for Inside a Chicken Coop?
While talking about hay, what is the best kind to use in a chicken coop? Hay layers get used for lining the nesting boxes, giving your feathered friends a lovely snuggly place to do their daily business. For the coop floor? Most homesteaders use material more absorbent such as chopped straw, wood shavings, or shredded paper.
You could use alfalfa hay in the chicken coop, but I bet your hens will quickly eat it all – or a decent amount. Not necessarily a bad thing, but if you don’t replace it routinely, their nesting boxes will soon be empty.
The best hay in a chicken coop for nesting boxes is soft grass hay, such as meadow hay. Meadow hay gets purchased in small bales from the pet food store. Or you can get meadow hay in larger quantities from a local farmer or wholesaler.
Are Bales of Hay Good for Chickens?
While chickens adore a bale of alfalfa, they are not (usually) interested in other types of hay. But hay bales still have a purpose in our chicken raising efforts.
A simple bale of hay can make a great climbing frame for hens, and you will often find your lovely ladies perched on top of one if you leave a bale in the run. They will also enjoy searching around the bale for tiny insects to snack on when they get hungry or want to forage.
Talking of insects, try leaving a hay bale on the ground for a few weeks. Then turn it over – you will have an organic buffet swarming for your hens! This hay won’t be good for feeding animals, but you can scatter it around your chicken run in the winter to prevent it from turning into a mud bath.
The best part of this process is that in the spring? Any seeds from the bale will sprout, giving your hens yet another feast!
Are you ready to give alfalfa a try for your chickens?
With so many ways of feeding alfalfa to your hens, it seems crazy not to try! Whether you buy a small bale of alfalfa hay, sow a tray of alfalfa sprouts, or even grow a patch of alfalfa as winter forage for your hens, this is a quick and easy way to boost your chicken’s diet. But remember that this superfood for hens should get fed as a supplement. And not as their main diet!
Are you feeling inspired to try growing some alfalfa for your hens? I know it will be part of my spring sowing plan this year! Growing forage crops for chickens is great for saving money. And it’s something that every homesteader should try. I can’t wait to see my girls finding a patch of alfalfa on their daily foraging wander!
What about you?
Do your chickens eat alfalfa? Maybe your hens love alfalfa grass. But what about your roosters?
Or – maybe other animals on your homestead love alfalfa? (Maybe sheep, turkeys, cows, or goats? Let us know!)
Thanks so much for reading.
Have an excellent day!
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