Goats, compared to other livestock like sheep, cows and horses, tend to enjoy a particularly varied diet.
As browsers, they like to eat a little bit of everything, usually taking only the choicest bits before moving on to find some other tempting treat.
Nonetheless, there are items that are considered to be staples in a goat’s diet. Let’s look at alfalfa, a sometimes contentious inclusion. Can goats eat alfalfa, and is it safe?
Yes, goats can eat alfalfa safely in moderation as part of a varied diet. Whether it’s fresh, hay or pellets alfalfa is packed with protein, vitamins and minerals that goats need.
Alfalfa has many more advantages for goats than it has disadvantages, although you’ll still need to know how to manage the latter.
Alfalfa is a great choice for any goat that needs extra nutrition, and is particularly good for growing or nursing goats.
I’ll tell you everything you need to know about giving alfalfa to your herd in the rest of this article…
What Benefits Does Alfalfa Have for Goats?
Alfalfa, in its many forms, has lots of benefits for goats of all ages. It’s a particularly energy-dense dietary staple, and it provides loads of protein and necessary vitamins and minerals for goats.
This makes it an excellent feed for helping your herd get through the winter when they wouldn’t normally have access to good browsing options, and is perfect for giving any goats that are under stress or slightly malnourished a boost.
Together, the nutrients present in alfalfa will significantly improve metabolic processes, nervous system function, circulatory health and overall energy levels for goats, and improve countless other processes throughout the body besides.
It’s also a particularly good mainstay for any lactating mothers, and alfalfa hay is the only hay that can meet their protein requirements.
This can be critical both for the health of the mother and the health of her kids!
All around, alfalfa is a superb nutritional resource, one that is let down only by its general expense and the necessity of carefully monitoring the quantity that goats are allowed to eat in order to prevent possible problems.
We will talk about those issues later, but note right now that they aren’t as big a deal as most people make them out to be…
Nutritional Profile of Alfalfa
As mentioned above, alfalfa is positively packed with nutrients it goats need, including lots of protein and many vitamins and minerals.
Looking at the mineral content, we see that alfalfa is surprisingly complete, and has lots of manganese, magnesium, zinc, iron and most of all calcium, along with a little bit of potassium.
The calcium content, though, can it be worrying for some individual goats or if you feed them too much alfalfa because of its propensity to cause urinary tract stones which can have serious implications for goats.
But the vitamin content of alfalfa is likewise highly attractive, with a great amount of vitamin C and vitamin K, and most of the B-complex vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and pyridoxine, along with a good shot of folate.
Considering that alfalfa is easy for goats to digest, it’s one of the best sources of nutrition around for them.
Is Alfalfa Safe for Goats Raw?
Yes, they can. Alfalfa is completely safe for goats to eat raw, either growing naturally or in the form of hay.
But, do be cautious of letting goats eat damp alfalfa and other legume forage because this can promote bloating. More on that later…
Can Goats Eat Alfalfa Hay?
Yes, they sure can. Alfalfa hay is one of the most convenient and cost-effective ways to give alfalfa to your goats. They love the stuff, and can digest it easily.
You’ll also find that it is significantly cheaper compared to pellets, though you must take the time to perform a nutritional analysis and quality inspection of any hay to avoid mishaps.
Can Goats Eat Alfalfa Pellets?
Yes, goats can eat alfalfa pellets safely. Highly convenient, easy to store and easy to dispense, this is the preferred alfalfa option for many goat owners. But, as you might expect, it tends to be expensive.
Can You Cook Alfalfa to Give it to Goats?
Yes, but there’s absolutely no reason to do this. Pellets are already cooked in their final form, and other forms of alfalfa are safe and appealing to goats when growing naturally or harvested as with hay.
How Frequently Can Goats Have Alfalfa?
Goats can have alfalfa regularly as long as it meets their nutritional requirements and isn’t fed to excess.
Alfalfa should be fed to goats very sparingly in the beginning so their rumen has time to adjust.
This will help prevent bloat and other issues. Generally, most goats need around 7% crude protein in their diet, while pregnant goats need much more, around 11 to 12%.
Allowing your goats access to forage and other foods will also help to prevent issues associated with feeding too much alfalfa.
Generally, you should portion out all the alfalfa your goats are given, don’t let them free feed because they do love the stuff and that will lead to issues!
Can Alfalfa Cause Problems for Goats?
Yes, it can, especially if you let them eat too much too quickly when they aren’t adjusted to it, if you allow them to overeat, or if you allow them to eat naturally growing alfalfa that is damp or wet.
In the first two cases, this can cause digestive upset because your goat’s rumen doesn’t have time to adjust to the massive intake of protein and calcium, and to a new, novel food generally.
Also, overeating alfalfa will give goats too much protein and too much calcium specifically, with the latter particularly leading to urinary calculi, basically urinary tract stones or kidney stones.
Also, damp alfalfa and other wet forage can be problematic for goats because it promotes bloating.
Although this can happen with any wet foods that goats are allowed to eat, it’s especially associated with alfalfa.
But, so long as you feed them alfalfa in any form with a purpose and according to their caloric and nutritional requirements, and keep them from overeating stuff, you generally won’t have any issues.
Never Serve Alfalfa to Goats if it Has Harmful Ingredients or Chemicals
It’s worth mentioning that you should never, ever allow your goats to eat growing alfalfa or any hay that might have been contaminated with chemicals or anything else that could cause them harm.
Many pesticides are toxic to mammals, and it is your responsibility to be absolutely sure your goats are not allowed to eat or served any alfalfa hay that might be so contaminated.
Similarly, do your due diligence when it comes to assessing the quality and wholesomeness of any pasture or hay that you provide to your goats; not all sellers of such hay are trusty!
How Should You Serve Alfalfa to your Herd?
The best way to give alfalfa to your goats is slowly. I mean to say that if your goats haven’t already been eating alfalfa products regularly in their diet, you need to give them very small portions spread out over a couple of weeks in order to allow their rumen time to adjust.
Slowly increasing the quantity and the frequency means they’ll be able to eat it with no problems.
Other than that, you can give it to them however you prefer: if you know you have alfalfa and other legumes growing on your property, you can certainly let them eat them as long as they are not damp or wet.
Or if you want to spring for it alfalfa pellets or other feed are extremely convenient, especially during the winter or when your goats cannot go out to pasture for whatever reason.
Is Alfalfa Safe for Baby Goats?
Yes, alfalfa is safe for baby goats, particularly once they start eating solid food. Alfalfa will provide plenty of protein and other nutrients that your quick-growing kids will need in order to grow up healthy and strong.
But once your young goats are starting to reach true physical maturity, you can start transferring them over to grass hay if you want to in order to save money.
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.