Can Goats Eat Alfalfa? What the Experts Say

Can Goats Eat Alfalfa

Ah, the humble goat! These bearded, bleating companions have been a part of our farms and hearts for centuries. Whether you’re a seasoned goat owner or a curious newbie, the question of what to feed these ruminants often pops up.

With a world of greens, grains, and grasses to choose from, narrowing down the menu can be a bit of a challenge. Enter alfalfa, a feed often touted for its nutritional punch.

But the burning question remains: Can goats eat alfalfa? Dive in as we delve deep into the world of goat grub, dissecting facts, myths, and everything in between about this leafy green wonder.

Can goats eat alfalfa? Yes, goats can eat alfalfa. It’s a nutritious forage option packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals. However, it’s crucial to balance it with other dietary components and monitor portions to avoid potential health issues.

What is Alfalfa?

Alfalfa | Nutritious Forage Crop, Livestock Feed & Soil Enhancer |  Britannica

Alfalfa, scientifically known as Medicago sativa, is a perennial flowering plant that’s part of the pea family. Often referred to as the “queen of forages,” alfalfa is widely recognized for its high yield and nutritional density.

It thrives in a variety of climates and soils, making it a popular choice for farmers and ranchers across the globe.

Beyond its agricultural acclaim, alfalfa boasts a rich history. Ancient Chinese and Arab civilizations utilized alfalfa both as feed for their animals and as a medicinal herb for various ailments.

Its name is rooted in Arabic, where “al-fal-fa” translates to “father of all foods,” hinting at its revered status and nutritional prowess.

The plant itself grows in a deep-rooted manner, allowing it to access water and nutrients from further underground.

This characteristic not only aids in its drought resistance but also contributes to its high mineral content. The vibrant green leaves are where most of the nutrients are concentrated, making it a sought-after choice for forage.

The Nutritional Benefits of Alfalfa for Goats

Alfalfa: Benefits, Nutrition Facts & Side Effects

The quality of a goat’s diet plays an intrinsic role in its health, growth, and productivity. Alfalfa, with its abundant nutritional offerings, holds a revered place in the realm of goat nutrition. Let’s dive deeper into the wealth of benefits alfalfa provides for our caprine companions:

Protein Powerhouse

  • Muscle Development: A goat’s physical structure and stamina are largely dependent on protein. The high protein content in alfalfa aids in muscle buildup and tissue repair, especially crucial for young and growing goats.
  • Milk Production: For dairy goats, protein directly influences the quantity and quality of milk produced. Alfalfa’s protein ensures that lactating does have the nutritional support to produce rich and nutritious milk.
  • Body Maintenance: Protein is also vital for various metabolic activities, cell regeneration, and the production of essential enzymes and hormones.

Vitamins and Minerals

  • Vitamin A: Essential for vision, growth, and immune function. It also plays a role in the maintenance of the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
  • Vitamin D: Vital for bone health as it helps in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the gut.
  • Vitamin E: A powerful antioxidant that aids in immune function and skin health.
  • Vitamin K: Important for blood clotting and bone metabolism.
  • Calcium and Phosphorus: These minerals work in tandem to ensure strong bones and teeth. Alfalfa’s calcium-to-phosphorus ratio is ideal for goats.
  • Magnesium: Assists in muscle function and the transmission of nerve impulses.
  • Potassium: Essential for heart health and muscle function.

Dietary Fiber

  • Promotes Digestion: The natural fibers in alfalfa aid in the digestive process, helping goats break down other foods and absorb nutrients more efficiently.
  • Ensures Gut Health: Fiber is crucial for rumen health. A well-functioning rumen ensures that goats can ferment and utilize nutrients effectively.
  • Prevents Bloating: Adequate fiber intake can also help prevent issues like bloating or acidosis, common in ruminants fed high grain diets.

Natural Antioxidants

  • Combatting Free Radicals: Antioxidants neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, which can otherwise damage cells and lead to various diseases.
  • Boosting Immunity: With regular intake, the antioxidants in alfalfa can enhance a goat’s immune response, making it better equipped to fend off illnesses.

Energy Source

  • Steady Energy Release: Unlike simple sugars, the carbohydrates in alfalfa provide a slow and steady energy release, ensuring that goats remain energetic throughout the day without experiencing energy crashes.
  • Supports Daily Activities: This steady energy is crucial for daily activities, be it foraging, playing, or any other physical exertion.

Incorporating alfalfa into a goat’s diet can provide these benefits and more. However, it’s imperative to understand and respect the balance, ensuring that while alfalfa is a component of the diet, it isn’t the only one, thus maintaining a holistic nutritional profile for the goat.

Potential Risks and Considerations

Feeding Goats: How Much Goat Feed Per Day | Nature's Best

While alfalfa brings a plethora of nutritional benefits to the table, it’s essential to be aware of potential risks and considerations when including it in a goat’s diet. Like any feed, moderation and balance are key. Here are some aspects to keep in mind:

Excessive Calcium Intake

  • Urinary Calculi: Overconsumption of calcium can lead to urinary calculi, especially in male goats. These are painful stones that can block the urinary tract, potentially leading to serious complications.
  • Bone Issues: An imbalanced calcium to phosphorus ratio can affect bone health. While alfalfa has an excellent ratio, supplementing with other high-calcium feeds can throw this balance off.


  • Rapid Fermentation: Alfalfa can ferment rapidly in the rumen, producing gas. If goats consume large quantities in a short period, this can lead to bloating.
  • Prevention: Ensure gradual introduction of alfalfa into the diet and monitor for signs of discomfort or bloating.

High Protein Levels

  • Overloading: Too much protein can stress a goat’s kidneys and may not be necessary for non-lactating, non-growing goats.
  • Balance: Pairing alfalfa with lower protein feeds can help maintain a balanced protein intake.

Pesticides and Contaminants

  • Chemical Residues: Like other crops, alfalfa might be treated with pesticides. Consumption of pesticide residues can harm goats.
  • Solution: Opt for organic or pesticide-free alfalfa and always ensure it’s sourced from reputable suppliers.

Alfalfa Sprouts

  • Potential Harm: Sprouts can sometimes harbor harmful bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella, which can be dangerous if consumed.
  • Safety First: If offering sprouted alfalfa, ensure it’s fresh, clean, and free from mold or off-odors.

Price and Availability

  • Cost: Alfalfa can be more expensive than other hay varieties. Consider the cost-benefit ratio and whether it’s feasible for your herd size and budget.
  • Seasonality: In some regions, alfalfa might be seasonal, affecting its availability and price.

While these considerations don’t negate the benefits of alfalfa, being informed allows goat owners to make the best choices for their herd, ensuring health and longevity.

Portion Control: How Much is Too Much?

When it comes to feeding alfalfa to goats, the saying “too much of a good thing can be bad” certainly holds true. It’s crucial to strike the right balance to harness the benefits of this nutrient-dense feed without overburdening the goat. Let’s delve into the appropriate portions:

Lactating and Pregnant Goats

  • These goats have higher nutritional needs. They can benefit from a larger amount of alfalfa to support milk production and fetal growth.
  • Recommended Portion: Up to 50% of their total hay intake, but always monitor for any signs of discomfort or bloating.

Growing Kids

  • Young goats need the protein and calcium boost that alfalfa provides for bone and muscle development.
  • Recommended Portion: 30-40% of their total diet.

Adult Goats

  • For maintenance and regular dietary needs, adult goats don’t require as much alfalfa.
  • Recommended Portion: 20-25% of their total hay intake, adjusted according to their health, activity level, and any other supplemental feeds.

Senior Goats

  • Older goats might benefit from alfalfa due to its digestibility and nutrient content, but care should be taken due to potential kidney stresses from high protein.
  • Recommended Portion: 20% of their diet, with frequent health checks.

Tips for Safe Introduction

  • Always introduce alfalfa gradually over a week to allow the rumen to adjust.
  • Mix alfalfa with other hays initially to ensure the goat doesn’t gorge on it.
  • Monitor for signs of bloating, discomfort, or urinary issues, especially in males.

Balancing with Grain and Supplements

  • If you’re offering grain or other supplements, adjust the amount of alfalfa accordingly. Overfeeding can lead to obesity and other health issues.
  • Be aware of the total calcium-to-phosphorus ratio in the complete diet to ensure bone health.

In essence, while alfalfa is a fantastic feed, moderation is paramount. Understanding the needs of individual goats based on their age, health status, and reproductive stage will guide portion control for optimal health.

Comparing Alfalfa to Other Common Goat Feeds

To truly appreciate the place of alfalfa in a goat’s diet, it’s beneficial to compare it to other common feeds. Each type of feed offers unique nutrients and benefits:

Alfalfa vs. Timothy Hay

  • Alfalfa: Rich in protein, calcium, and vitamins. It’s denser and more energy-packed, making it ideal for lactating, growing, or working goats.
  • Timothy Hay: Lower in protein and calcium but has a good fiber content. It’s excellent for maintaining weight and general dietary needs.

Alfalfa vs. Clover Hay

  • Alfalfa: Offers consistent nutritional content and is usually less susceptible to mold.
  • Clover Hay: Has similar protein levels to alfalfa but can sometimes harbor mold if not dried properly. It’s also a legume, so it’s rich in nutrients.

Alfalfa vs. Grain Mixes

  • Alfalfa: A natural, fibrous feed that aids digestion and provides necessary minerals and vitamins.
  • Grain Mixes: Energy-dense and can be tailored to specific nutritional needs. However, over-reliance without proper fibrous feed can lead to digestive issues.

Alfalfa vs. Pasture Grazing

  • Alfalfa: Ensures a consistent nutrient profile, especially during times when pastures may not be lush.
  • Pasture Grazing: Offers a diverse diet, but the nutrient content varies based on the quality of the pasture. It’s more natural but may not always meet high nutritional demands.

Alfalfa vs. Straw

  • Alfalfa: Nutrient-dense feed suitable for ingestion.
  • Straw: Mostly used as bedding, with little nutritional value. It’s fibrous and can be eaten, but shouldn’t be the primary feed.

Considerations When Choosing Feed:

  • Availability: Depending on the region, some hays might be more readily available than others.
  • Cost: Alfalfa is generally more expensive than grass hays but might be cost-effective considering its nutrient density.
  • Purpose: Feeding a lactating goat requires a different approach than a sedentary adult goat.
  • Storage: Some feeds, like alfalfa, need proper storage to prevent mold growth.

Understanding how alfalfa stacks up against other feeds enables goat keepers to make informed decisions tailored to their herd’s specific needs.

Real Experiences: Goat Owners Weigh In

Producers bank on a smooth recipe | GippslandFarmer

The insights of those who’ve tread the path before us are often invaluable. When it comes to feeding goats alfalfa, seasoned goat owners have plenty of insights to offer.

Linda from Wisconsin shared, “I’ve been raising dairy goats for over 15 years. Alfalfa has always been a staple, particularly for my milking does. They not only relish it, but it also keeps them robust throughout their lactation period.”

Meanwhile, Raj from Texas had a slightly different journey. “We tried a brief stint with cheaper hay due to budget constraints, but the decline in our goats’ energy and appearance was discernible. Once we reintroduced alfalfa, their vibrancy returned almost immediately.”

Miguel and Ana, a couple from New Mexico, have a combined approach. “Our goats do graze freely, but we always supplement with alfalfa, especially during the colder months. It’s our way of ensuring they receive the necessary nutrients.”

On the eastern side, Sarah from Maine recounts, “Post-labor, one of my does was distressingly underweight. On a fellow breeder’s advice, I increased her alfalfa intake. The subsequent weeks saw her gradually returning to her former vitality.”

Yet, it’s essential to be cautious. As Hannah from Oregon warns, “Alfalfa has many benefits, but it’s important to tread carefully. A wether of mine once suffered from urinary calculi, potentially linked to an excessive calcium intake.”

Noah from Vermont believes in balance. “I’ve found success in mixing alfalfa with other hays. It ensures my goats reap its benefits but also adds variety to their diet.”

Lastly, Aisha from Colorado offers a testament to alfalfa’s benefits, noting, “The lustrous coats of my goats? I attribute that to the balanced diet they’re on, with alfalfa as a key player.”

Drawing from the rich experiences of these goat owners, it’s clear that while alfalfa has a lot to offer, its introduction and quantity in a goat’s diet should be managed with knowledge and care.

Alfalfa hay is a popular type of hay fed to goats. Although it can be used for all goat types, it is especially good for breeding and milk-producing does (female goats). It has more protein, vitamins, and minerals than grass hays.

Did you know that alfalfa is one of the oldest crops that is solely cultivated for foraging purposes? It is used for grazing, silage, hay, green manure, and cover crops.

While it is popular as “alfalfa” in North America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, it is referred to as “lucerne.” Alfalfa grows best in warmer, temperate climates and consists of small, purple flowers. The sprouts of alfalfa are also a part of South Indian cuisine.

As livestock fodder, alfalfa is fed to the goats and horses, sheep, rabbits, cows, and buffaloes. In this article, we will learn about the nutritional value of alfalfa, its health benefits for goats, the forms in which goats can consume it safely, and more.

FAQs About Goats and Alfalfa

Naturally, when delving into the subject of feeding goats alfalfa, several frequently asked questions pop up. Let’s address some of the most common concerns and curiosities.

Q: Can kids (baby goats) eat alfalfa?
A: Yes, kids can consume alfalfa. However, because their digestive systems are still developing, it’s crucial to introduce it gradually and ensure it’s free from mold or contaminants.

Q: Does alfalfa cause bloating in goats?
A: While alfalfa can cause bloating in some ruminants, goats generally handle it well if introduced slowly and given in appropriate amounts. It’s essential to always monitor for signs of bloating, especially when introducing new feeds.

Q: Is alfalfa hay or alfalfa pellets better for goats?
A: Both forms have their advantages. Alfalfa hay provides a natural grazing experience, promotes better digestion, and helps with dental health. Pellets, on the other hand, are convenient, have a longer shelf life, and are less messy. The choice depends on your goat’s preferences and your management style.

Q: What should I do if my goat overeats alfalfa?
A: Overeating can lead to digestive issues. If a goat consumes excessive alfalfa, monitor them for signs of distress, like lethargy or bloating. Ensure they have access to plenty of fresh water and consider consulting a vet if symptoms persist.

Q: Can pregnant goats eat alfalfa?
A: Absolutely! In fact, alfalfa can be beneficial for pregnant goats due to its high calcium content, essential for both the mother and developing kid(s). But, as always, moderation is key.

Q: How can I store alfalfa to ensure it stays fresh?
A: Alfalfa should be stored in a dry, cool place, away from direct sunlight. Keeping it elevated off the ground and ensuring good air circulation prevents mold growth. For pellets, seal them in an airtight container.

By addressing these frequently asked questions, we hope to provide clarity for goat owners navigating the alfalfa landscape. Always remember that each goat is unique, and it’s crucial to observe and adjust their diet based on individual needs.

Tips for Introducing Alfalfa to Your Goat’s Diet

Transitioning your goat to a new food source requires patience and keen observation. When it comes to alfalfa, here are some handy tips to ensure a smooth dietary shift:

  1. Start Slowly: Like all dietary changes, it’s vital to introduce alfalfa gradually. Begin by mixing small amounts of alfalfa with their regular feed, increasing the portion over several days or even weeks. This allows their digestive systems to adjust without becoming overwhelmed.
  2. Observe for Reactions: Keep a close eye on your goat during the transition phase. Watch for any signs of discomfort, bloating, or changes in stool consistency. Any adverse reactions could indicate that you’re introducing the alfalfa too quickly or that it may not be suitable for your particular goat.
  3. Fresh is Best: Always ensure the alfalfa, whether hay or pellets, is fresh and free from mold or contaminants. Stale or moldy feed can lead to severe health issues.
  4. Provide Plenty of Water: Alfalfa is quite rich, and when consumed, it can make your goats thirstier than usual. Ensure they have access to fresh and clean water at all times.
  5. Balance with Other Feeds: While alfalfa is nutritious, it shouldn’t be the only food source. Ensure a balanced diet by combining alfalfa with grains, other hays, and necessary minerals and vitamins.
  6. Monitor Weight and Health: Regularly weigh your goat and perform health checks. If you notice rapid weight gain or any health concerns, you might need to adjust the alfalfa portions or consider other dietary components.
  7. Consult a Vet: If you’re unsure about introducing alfalfa or have concerns about its effects on your goat, always seek advice from a veterinarian. They can provide guidance tailored to your goat’s specific needs and conditions.

Introducing alfalfa to your goat’s diet can be beneficial, but like all things, it requires balance and attention to detail. By following these tips and maintaining consistent observation, you can ensure your goat thrives on this nutritious addition.


The world of goat nutrition is as varied as it is fascinating. With alfalfa at its helm, offering a myriad of benefits, it’s no wonder goat owners often ponder its inclusion in their beloved animals’ diets.

While the verdant leaves of alfalfa promise rich nutrients and a taste most goats relish, it’s essential to tread with caution and wisdom. Like all foods, moderation is key, and balance is paramount.

By considering the health, age, and specific needs of your goats, you can harness the power of alfalfa to elevate their well-being and zest for life. In the end, our goats rely on our informed choices to thrive, and with careful thought and diligence, we can provide them with a diet as robust and vibrant as the landscapes they grace.

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