January 31, 2014

Alfalfa For Goats: Looking For Alternatives

We American goat keepers love our alfalfa. It's rich in protein and calcium and increases milk production. Who could ask for anything more? Unfortunately alfalfa isn't grown in my part of the country, so alfalfa hay is extremely expensive. Since goats are very wasteful with it, it doesn't make sense to buy it, except as pellets. And that's what I've done, feed my girls alfalfa pellets. Until the other day.

Of all the alfalfa pellet brands I can buy locally, I've always bought Standlee. It's been the one brand that contains little to no alfalfa dust, plus, they've had a non-GMO statement on their website regarding their alfalfa sources. Until recently.

Recently Standlee changed their packaging, new look and all. I have to say I wasn't impressed with the new bags, especially when I discovered how easily they burst open. But that wasn't the real problem. The real problem was that after offering it to my girls, they wouldn't eat it. They all walked away from their feeders with quite a bit left in the bottom.

That raised a huge red flag in my mind, so I went back to the Standlee website. Instead of the non-GMO statement, I found this one.  You can click it to see for yourself, but the bottom line is that they now use "a limited amount of GMO Alfalfa". That's extremely disappointing, but hats off to Standlee for at least disclosing the GMO status of their feeds!

So I'm looking for an alternative. I know quite a few of you may be quick to mention Chaffhaye (the new alfalfa darling of the goat world), because Chaffhaye manufacturers promise their product will always be GMO free. I did look into it. However, the nearest dealer is about 135 miles away. At $15 per 50 pound bag, that makes it a better deal than the 40 pound bags of alfalfa pellets selling for $14.49. But the distance keeps it off the range of realistic possibilities because I buy weekly. A weekly 270 mile trip for alfalfa would be ridiculous. Perhaps more feasible would be to buy a bulk supply, except our budget has no room for that!

I confess that even if budget wasn't an issue, I'd still be looking for an alternative. One reason is our goal of self-sustaining animal keeping. That means working toward feeding our animals from our land.

The other reason is because of what I read about alfalfa in Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care, because alfalfa is a legume.
"Goitrogenic Feeds: All legumes come under this category. They deplete iodine if they are eaten in excess . . . Irrigation alfalfa grown with artificial fertilizers is especially toxic." Page 95
I can't help but wonder that if I didn't feed alfalfa, perhaps my goats wouldn't gobble down the kelp meal (their source of iodine) so quickly.

In the end, my goal is to get away from buying anything to feed my goats. Having self-sustaining goats means providing everything they need on our homestead. This is a goal I've been working toward for a number of years. Now, however, it seems time to shift gears from experimental stage to the real deal.

As a replacement for alfalfa, I've been planting comfrey, adding more crowns every year. It is rich in both protein and calcium and the goats love it. It takes a bit of work, however, because it loves rich soil and doesn't seem to tolerate any hot, dry spells. Still, if I can get a routine it will be worth it.

I'm working on an update to our self-sufficient animal feed goal, but until then (for anyone interested), here are links to previous posts on what I've researched, learned, and thought about:


Frugal in Derbyshire said...

We don't have enough land to grow all our fodder needs, but those we have grown are perennials. That is.. Comfrey, Bamboo and Jerusalem artichokes.
We would always wilt the comfrey and recent studies suggest that in large quantities it can be carciogenic.
These plants are also invasive and can quickly become a weed in the wrong place!
I enjoy visiting your blog

Leigh said...

Hi Gill, I grow Jerusalem artichoke and feed the tubers to my goats. Do you feed the leaves and stalks as well? I've thought about bamboo, but the kind grown around here is very invasive. Still, the goats would likely keep it at bay. Along those lines I should have mentioned that my comfrey is not the common kind, but the hybrid Russian comfrey, Bocking #4 strain, which is sterile! I'd be curious at looking at the recent studies, although am learning to take modern science with a grain of salt.

Bill said...

Keeps our goats nourished during this harsh winter has been a real challenge. We try to get them by on the hay we raised, with a little sweet feed now and then (it's awful stuff and I try not to think about what's in it). But with the extreme cold they've eaten much more than normal and we're going to run out of hay. I realize now that we have too many goats on the pasture, as in the past we could get through the winter with far less hay. So we're going to have to reduce our herd size over the summer, which I regret.

Candy C. said...

We don't have the option of growing feed for our goats and we feed bermuda hay (finer with less waste) and pellets. I have been feeding alfalfa and timothy, switching them up to keep the goats from getting bored, but I think I'll go just with the timothy pellets after reading the statement on the Standlee website.

Leigh said...

Bill, your situation sounds exactly like ours! I'm already evaluating which goats to keep and which goats to sell. I've kept more than we need because of my breeding program and the search for the "best" ones to keep for my goals. It does mean more hay and more wear-&-tear on the poor pastures, however,

Candy, sad about Standlee, isn't it? Actually I wonder how anyone can keep GMO-free these days, the way the stuff cross-pollinates and contaminates pure crops.

I'd be curious as to what kind of feeder you have. Our cattle panel feeder is wasteful no matter what I put in it.

Mama Pea said...

Your goats won't eat the "new" alfalfa pellets. Does that make them smarter than the humans who are killing life on the planet (fellow man, animals, the soil and water) with GMO policies? (Yes, I feel strongly about the subject. Why do you ask?)

It continues to be a real challenge to obtain (even when growing our own) food for livestock, pets and ourselves which will enable us all to have long, healthy, productive lives. As you alluded to, our current economic situation doesn't help either.

Renee Nefe said...

I would send a letter to Standlee, expressing that your goats won't eat their new food. I think when it comes down to it, if their consumers don't want the product they'll be forced to give what the consumers want.

Quinn said...

Leigh, thanks for leaving your nice comment on Comptonia today! Brightened my morning :)
About comfrey...do you have any concerns about the spines, or are you growing a spineless variety? I grew a comfrey plant for the first time this past summer, and it was delightfully lush and gorgeous. Then I discovered those ouchy hairs on every leaf, and decided not to offer it to my goats. I'd love to grow it for them if it is safe!

Gayle said...

Do you have access to pea hay? I fed it to my angora goats because it didn't make a mess of the mohair. They loved it.

Leigh said...

Mama Pea, amen! Actually I worry we're killing ourselves off while our politicians (both sides) stand by and do nothing.

Renee, that's a very good idea. I checked their website; no email contact but they do have a physical address. I will definitely send them a letter.

Quinn, you're welcome! :) I never gave the comfrey spines a thought, but then, my goats eat blackberry brambles and saw briars, thorns and all, and with great relish! I'm thinking if they didn't like the prickles, they wouldn't eat it. :)

Gayle, I'd have to grow it myself. Actually I grow and feed them cowpeas (they eat pods too) but hadn't thought about the vines as hay, although they do get turned into the corn and cowpea field after harvest.

I read in Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living that they grew a hay mix of peas and oats. That gave their cows both grain and protein all in one hay. So far my experiments with oats have been not very encouraging, however.

The main thing about the comfrey is that it's a source of calcium, which dairy goats need. That said, I do think angoras are the most beautiful goats in the world!

Unknown said...

Ohh I ditto what Mama Pea said. Amen! Leigh I find your posts so interesting and always learn much. Alfalfa is grown where I live and we are actually going to be planting both alfalfa and bermuda this spring for our herd.

We're getting closer to adding goat and sheep so i'm reading about their nutritional needs, again. Our goal is also to be able to feed ourselves and our animals from the land where we know it's clean and cost effective. Happy Friday!

Nina said...

When I was a leader of our local 4H goat club, we talked with a number of goat breeders who all said the same thing "that their goats gobbled up the kelp" like there was no tomorrow. One had to limit it to once a week. Another sheep and goat breeder I know only gives it to them for the last couple of months of gestation as she is certain it helps with birthing. I live in Alfalfa country, so have never had an issue, but I've a friend who purposely planted her fields in an alfalfa/timothy mix, just to reduce the richness of her hay. Why don't they plant Alfalfa in your area?

Leigh said...

Jen, good for you for doing your homework first! One book I can't recommend highly enough is Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care. I actually reviewed it, here.

Nina, very interesting about your area. It's very possible that all that alfalfa is causing the hunger for kelp, or rather iodine. They are likely iodine deficient, which can contribute to labor and delivery problems among other things. I also read that female fetuses have a higher need for iodine. That's with goats at least. If they don't get what they need, they can be stillborn or very weak at birth.

I think no one grows alfalfa here because of our hot, dry summers, although I did find an old online pamphlet from our cooperative extension service on growing it. I tossed some old seed into my pasture mix once, but I don't think it ever grew.

Anonymous said...

My ex is a ruminant nutritionist, so I learned more than I wanted to at the time about feeding goats & sheep. I never feed mine alfalfa. They love it, of course, but don't normally need that heavy nutrition. A good grass hay, a little grain as a treat while I milk (more if they are nursing more than twins). With all the browse you provide your girls, I wouldn't worry about their nutrition.

Frugal in Derbyshire said...

Hi Leigh, It's Gill again !
I feed all parts of the Jerusalem artichoke as fodder.(rabbits love it too)
Re. feeding comfrey,there is quite a good article by the University of Wisconsin, which gives a good overview of the quality as fodder and mentions the carcinogenic possibilities.
We also dry nettles for hay. Goats will also eat wilted nettles.
I was pleased to see Carla Emery mentioned in your comments. She and John Seymour were my "start up" books as a smallholder
Nice to see you visiting my blog!

Leigh said...

Sue, thank you for that! From my research, I'm coming to exactly the same conclusion. I'm working on a post which one day I hope to finish (!).

Gill, yes, it's nice to meet other bloggers with similar interests! John Seymour is another of my favorites too. I'm glad to hear that about the Jerusalem artichoke plant. And I'll definitely hunt up that article.

Our long term goal is to feed our animals from the land. Currently we're working on pasture improvement for both forage and hay. Plus I've been researching what herbs and veggies I can grow for them as well, with a view toward making my own homegrown feed supplement (more on that in this post). I'm a firm believer in variety for goats, so by growing and mixing as much as I can I hope to cover their vitamin and mineral needs that way, with pasture, forage, and hay, and without grain or other concentrates. The news about Standlee's alfalfa has pushed me into making it a goal to do that this summer. I've done the research, now I need to put it into action!

Candy C. said...

Leigh, our goat feeders are basic hook-over feeders and came from the feed store. They do still throw hay on the ground but with the alfalfa, they would only eat the leaf. My husband lets the horses into the goat pen about every three days and they clean up ALL the leftovers! It really is difficult to find a way to keep the goats from wasting their hay. :(

Leigh said...

Candy, thanks. We've since tried a different hay feeder that seems to not waste so much. There are photos toward the bottom of this post, "Project Priorities & The Weather." If we ever build another one, it will be similar to that.

Michelle said...

Thank you for this post! I've never given alfalfa a second thought, other than being concerned about the future impact of the introduction of GMO alfalfa since it is readily available in my area. However, our homestead is not large enough to produce enough alfalfa to sustain even a small herd. Comfrey, though, is another matter. I've always wanted to grow it, but friends have warned me that it can actually be invasive here. That's a big bonus in the goat world! LOL! I'm definitely adding comfrey to me spring planting schedule now. :-)

Leigh said...

Michelle, the invasive one is common comfrey, the non-invasive one is Russian Bocking #4 strain. Mine is all planted in a bed in the front yard. I have thought of planting common comfrey in the goat pasture, however, figuring the goats could keep it under control!

Su Ba said...

Leigh, ive never grown comfrey, but you've peaked my interest. How do you start it? Root cuttings? And I'm guessing that you harvest it by the cut-and-come again method? I'm thinking that comfrey should grow here in Hawaii. Like you, I like to provide a wide variety in my livestock's diet and aim to be self sufficient. So comfrey would be a nice addition.

thefisherlady said...

I have planted comfrey along the entire length of my big Vegetable garden at the fence so the goats can stick their heads through the page wire at will and indulge... it grows back continually through Spring to Winter frosts.
They love it and I have a very healthy herd.

Debby Riddle said...

lots of ideas. I wonder what goats used to eat in your area? We have a certain sweet clover that grew in this area, and I am thinking about growing that. Also forage beets( mangles) and,turnips, for winter grazing, sunflower seeds and plants. Millet was recommended for dry areas.I have no experience at this point. I need a tractor! They used to have so many acorns in this area, that they would drive herds of pigs to market in the fall,( a trip of several days) when they were on the ground. Old ways we have completely forgotten about.

Anonymous said...

I know it grows like mad around here, not sure if you have it down there, but Kudzu is supposed to be about 15% protein from what I have read....maybe you could harvest it locally?


Leigh said...

Su Ba, I purchase crowns. Root cuttings are available too (as are plants) but crowns are quicker than roots and less expensive than plants.

thefisherlady, great idea for planting comfrey. So far I either feed fresh or dried, for when it's gone dormant for the winter. Your fence idea means they couldn't nibble it down to nothing!

Debby, that's a good question, although I'm not sure if historically folks kept goats around here! I try to grow root crops to chop and add to their feed mix, and I gather acorns too, which is a little fussy to do. It's so true about the old ways. Fortunately we are beginning to rediscover some of them.

Stephanie, thumbs up for kudzu. I do harvest and dry it as I'm able all summer. Most of ours grows up the trees in the woods, where the new doe browse is. I'm hoping they'll at least keep the kudzu from spreading!