Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa?

Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa?



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Let me tell ya’ll about the time I tried feeding my chickens straight alfalfa.

I’d heard that alfalfa can be good for chickens.

So I went and bought this huge 50 pound bale of alfalfa hay from the local feed store.

I was so excited to give it to my chickens thinking it would make them healthy and happy.

Boy was I wrong.

I dumped the entire bale right into their coop, and those crazy chickens went to town on it.

They were pecking and scratching at that green hay for hours, making a huge mess but they seemed to love it.

But after a few days I noticed the egg production had slowed way down.

My Rhode Island Red Buffy barely laid any eggs that week.

And my barred rock Betty was walking around with droopy wings and just seemed off.

That’s when I realized that too much fresh alfalfa can actually be a bad thing for chickens if they eat too much.

Turns out chickens can’t digest large amounts of alfalfa very efficiently.

It contains lots of fiber and nutrients but too much can lead to diarrhea, dehydration and other digestive issues in the birds.

So take it from me, don’t go overboard on the alfalfa.

A little sprinkle here and there is fine, but feeding large amounts spells trouble.

Yes, chickens can eat alfalfa hay or pellets, but only in moderation.

Nutrition in Alfalfa for Chickens

Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa?

Alfalfa contains lots of good vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are beneficial for chickens:

It has high levels of protein, which is important for growth and egg production.

My chickens always lay more eggs when they eat feed with at least 16% protein.

Alfalfa also provides lots of calcium, which chickens need for strong egg shells.

One time my chicken Ethel had thin, brittle shells.

After I gave her some alfalfa pellets, her next eggs had nice thick shells.

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Alfalfa has carotenoids, the pigments that help make egg yolks bright orange or yellow.

I love collecting colorful brown eggs from my chickens after they’ve eaten alfalfa.

It also contains lots of vitamins A, E, K and B vitamins.

These support their immune system and feather health.

Alfalfa provides minerals like phosphorus, iron, magnesium and zinc.

These minerals are essential for growth, bone strength and enzymatic functions.

So while alfalfa has lots of nutritional benefits, it must be fed carefully.

How Much Alfalfa Can Chickens Eat?

Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa?

There’s no exact amount of alfalfa chickens can eat, but here are some tips on feeding it:

Alfalfa should make up no more than 10% of a chicken’s total daily diet.

It’s better to use it as an occasional treat or supplement than a main feed ingredient.

I like to sprinkle some alfalfa leaves 2-3 times a week over their layer feed for variety.

If supplementing with alfalfa often, reduce the amount of commercial layer feed so they don’t get too much protein.

Watch for signs of indigestion or intestinal upset like droopy wings, lack of appetite or diarrhea.

One time I overdid it with the alfalfa and my chicken Henrietta had watery poops for days.

I cut back to just a handful twice a week after that.

Free-choice alfalfa hay in the coop is not recommended.

Chickens will likely overeat it, leading to tummy troubles.

Best Ways to Feed Alfalfa

Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa?

Here are some easy methods I like for safely feeding alfalfa:

Sprinkle a handful of dried alfalfa leaves into their feed a couple times a week.

I just take leaves out of a bale and crumble them over top.

Offer alfalfa pellets in a separate dish in limited quantities.

Too much at once can clog their crop.

Hang a small alfalfa leaf bundle inside the coop for them to lightly peck at through the day.

I tie leaves together and hang it near a perch.

Add a handful of chopped alfalfa leaves into nesting boxes for variety.

This encourages natural foraging behavior.

So in summary, be smart about how you serve up alfalfa to your flock.

A balanced diet is key for happy, healthy chickens.

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Trust me, I definitely learned this the hard way!

Moderation and balance is crucial when feeding alfalfa hay or pellets to chickens.

Dried vs. Fresh Alfalfa for Chickens

Dried alfalfa is better for chickens than fresh alfalfa.

Fresh alfalfa can contain high levels of harmful bacterias like salmonella that can make chickens sick.

The drying process kills off any dangerous organisms, making it safer to eat.

Dried alfalfa retains most of the important nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals.

It’s lower in moisture content than fresh, meaning chickens won’t get diarrhea from too much water intake.

Dried alfalfa in moderation provides benefits without the risks.

I give my chickens dried alfalfa leaves or pellets no more than twice a week.

They get all the advantages without an upset digestive system.

Never feed chickens fresh, green alfalfa straight from the field.

It can harbor salmonella, E. coli and other hazardous bacteria.

Make sure any fresh alfalfa is thoroughly dried first before feeding it.

Dried alfalfa is the safe, nutritious choice for chickens.

Alfalfa Meal for Baby Chicks

Alfalfa meal is a good supplement for baby chicks under 4 weeks old.

It provides protein for rapid growth and development of muscles and feathers.

The extra calcium supports proper bone formation.

I add a teaspoon of alfalfa meal per chick to their feed for the first month.

Alfalfa also encourages chicks to eat more which is important.

The carotenoids make their feed more visually appealing.

But too much alfalfa can be hard for little chicks to digest.

Their digestive systems are still immature.

I limit alfalfa meal to just a sprinkling over feed until 4 weeks.

After that they transition to crumbled chick starter which has less alfalfa.

Feeding straight alfalfa hay or pellets can impact chick growth.

Alfalfa meal gives baby chicks a nutritional boost safely.

Risks of Too Much Alfalfa for Chickens

Feeding chickens too much alfalfa can cause problems.

Diarrhea, dehydration and digestive upset from excess fiber and fluids.

Bloating or clogged crop because alfalfa expands in the stomach.

Weight loss from interfering with nutrient absorption.

Molting due to protein imbalance altering hormones.

Reduced egg production because of diarrhea and dehydration.

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I now limit alfalfa to a couple times a week max.

And I watch for any changes after feeding it like low energy or loose poop.

Make sure chickens always have access to clean water if feeding alfalfa.

The extra fiber increases water intake needs.

Monitor chickens closely when first offering alfalfa.

Reduce amount or frequency if adverse reactions occur.

Too much alfalfa can negatively impact chicken health.

When Not to Feed Chickens Alfalfa

There are certain times when alfalfa should be avoided.

Don’t feed alfalfa to newly hatched chicks under 4 weeks old.

Their digestive system can’t handle the high fiber content yet.

Avoid alfalfa at least 1 week before and after chickens molt.

The protein and minerals can interfere with new feather growth.

Don’t give alfalfa to hens when temperatures exceed 85°F.

The heat plus extra protein puts stress on their system.

Stop feeding alfalfa if diarrhea, bloating or other issues occur.

Wait until the digestive system recovers.

Prevent free-choice access to piles of loose alfalfa.

Chickens will likely over-consume.

There are optimal times and ways to feed alfalfa.

Be alert for signals from your chickens they’ve had enough.

Finding Quality Alfalfa for Chickens

Look for dried, pesticide-free alfalfa from a trusted source.

Ask at feed stores or order certified organic alfalfa online.

Check that leaves are green and not black, yellow or moldy.

Smell for fresh, earthy scent, not musty odors.

Select fine, easy to crumble leaves over thick stems.

Leaves contain more nutrients.

For pellets, get a reputable brand like Manna Pro.

Make sure it’s 100% alfalfa with no fillers.

Always store alfalfa in a cool, dry place in an airtight container.

Alfalfa goes rancid quickly in heat and humidity.

Feed chickens alfalfa within 6 months for maximum freshness.

High-quality alfalfa will provide the most nutritional benefits.

Do research to find the best sources for your flock.

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