It should come as no surprise that the inherent feed quality in alfalfa is in the leaves, not the stems. But few realize how much leaves really matter.
Alfalfa leaves can have a relative feed value of 480 and a relative feed quality of 550, says Dan Undersander, an agronomist with the University of Wisconsin. In contrast, alfalfa stems have a relative feed value of 80 to 100, and a relative feed quality of 70 to 80.
In addition, stems also account for 60 to 70% of neutral detergent fiber in alfalfa. The key, then, to harvesting high quality alfalfa is retaining as many leaves as possible. Alfalfa feed quality is in the
In one study conducted by Winfield in 2016, pre-cut alfalfa was made up of 44.5% leaves and 55.5% stems. But by the time the crop was harvested, the proportion was 32% leaves and 68% stems.
On a weight of dry matter basis, leaves and stems are about 50/50 in the standing crop, according to the Winfield study. Post harvest, that ratio changes to 43% leaves and 57% stems. “Fifteen to 18% of dry matter loss from cutting to harvest is coming from leaf loss,” Undersander says.
Do everything you can to minimize leaf loss and improve alfalfa quality, Undersander says.