Feed Value of Lucerne

Newsletter No. 37 – April 2006 Item 3

Understanding the Productive Value/Relative Feed Value (RFV) of Alfalfa
The Blue Mountain Ostrich Feed Company has been a strong advocate for using high quality Alfalfa (Lucerne) as the forage ingredient in commercial and/or home mixed Ostrich feed formulas.   They have always promoted the understanding that the productivity and commercial viability of any ostrich business is dependent on quality alfalfa, but how to calculate the productive value of alfalfa is not well understood by the Ostrich industry.

Blue Mountain has recently published a document called "The Alfalfa Guide" that explains how to identify quality alfalfa and why it is so important to use as the forage ingredient in any Ostrich feed formulation.    Some background discussion and key points from this guide clearly demonstrate why quality alfalfa is such an important Ostrich ingredient.

We regularly hear that it can’t be grown in a region, or producers want to grow crops with a perceived higher value.  Alfalfa is the 3rd most valuable crop produced in the United States, behind Maize and Soybean, the other two essential components in productive ostrich diets.  We also hear that alfalfa cannot be grown locally, that the climate is wrong or soil type is wrong.  A quote from a poster produced by University of California, Davis

Quote: Alfalfa is one of the most versatile crops in the world. It is grown in environments ranging from burning hot deserts to cool high mountain valleys, from frozen continental prairies to humid pastures and dry Mediterranean valleys. With proper fertility and drainage, it can be grown on soils ranging from beach sands to heavy clays.  It is grown as an intensive cash crop under irrigation, or as a lower intensity pasture crop in forage mixtures. End quote

The guide is a compilation of articles and scientific papers produced by a number of different authors that cover the reasons why quality alfalfa contributes to high levels of productive performance in Ostrich and other commercial livestock.  It also covers information on how to correctly sample batches of hay, procedures for testing and how to understand lab reports.   There is also a paper on how to calculate the Productive value or Relative Feed Value (RFV).

Figure 1, taken from a paper in this guide, illustrates the influencing factors that control animal performance and clearly indicates their interdependency one to another and the important role of the forage crop in commercial livestock production.

The productive value of Ostrich and all commercial livestock is controlled by a combination of factors, the greater the production, the greater the value of that livestock. For example the genetic influence cannot be demonstrated to its optimum performance when the forage quality is failing to provide adequate nutritive value and the overall ration is unable to achieve its productive value.  Even the best forage requires to be supported by the correct rations and management systems – all aspects are interdependent on each other to achieve total success.

Factors Influencing Livestock Performance

Figure 1 - Factors Influencing Livestock Performance

Clearly establishing the feeding value of the forage crop is a key factor.  The forage portion of a ration is significantly more than simply “roughage” as we see it referenced all too often.

Alfalfa (also referred to as Lucerne) is well documented as the most productive forage for commercial livestock production and the reason it is the third most valuable crop in the United States.  Quality Alfalfa provides not only valuable digestible fibre, but also quality protein, energy and many macro and micro nutrients.  Quality Alfalfa is a nutrient dense highly digestible forage and extremely valuable feed ingredient in rations required to support high levels of livestock production.

Personally I stopped actively producing ostrich until I was in a position to control my own Alfalfa production and not dependent on purchasing Alfalfa in a market where supply and demand was the only criteria that set the prices and was not related to quality at all.  I could see the difference in bird performance from one batch of Alfalfa to the other.  When the Alfalfa is below a certain quality it does not feed well and it is not possible to reformulate to make up for those lost nutrients without putting other aspects of the ration out of balance.

When living in Spain, I walked a number of fields in the alfalfa producing region and talked to the dehydrating plants that export to a number of countries.  They admitted to having difficulty achieving high standards.  Working with producers from most countries producing ostrich, the limiting factor all too frequently comes down to the ability to obtain Alfalfa of the right quality.

Producing the right quality requires the right variety for the region, the right level of inputs, with environmental and management factors being carried out correctly.   It requires a market environment where there is price differentiation based on quality.  In order to achieve such price differentiation, the market place must have a way to establish a method to calculate the productive value.

One of the reasons it is difficult to achieve the right quality, unless growing your own, is a general lack of understanding of the true Productive Value, or Relative Feed Value (RFV) to be able to set price differentials that encourage the production of quality Alfalfa.  One of the papers in the Blue Mountain guide to Alfalfa discusses how to interpret samples and how to calculate Relative Feed Value (RFV) and Relative Forage Quality (RFQ).

Forage Quality Values as Alfalfa Matures

Figure 2 - Forage Quality Values as Alfalfa Matures

The table in Figure 2 is from a paper entitled:  “Alfalfa Quality:  What is it?  What can we do about it?  and Will it pay?” by Garry D. Lacefield .  The full paper is included in The Blue Mountain Alfalfa Guide.   Note how as the Relative Feed Value (RFV) reduces the market value also changes. Figure 3 illustrates the different stages of maturity referenced in Figure 2 and demonstrates how the stem portion increases as a total proportion of the plant as the plant matures.

Alfalfa Digestibility and Maturity

Figure 3 - Alfalfa Digestibility and Maturity

Alfalfa is a premier forage legume that is a key component of commercial livestock high production rations, and is especially valuable as a major component in Ostrich Rations, with inclusion levels ranging from +/- 30% to in excess of 50% depending on the ration and depending on the quality of that Alfalfa.  The higher the quality the greater the inclusion levels that can be used thus reducing the levels of higher cost protein ingredients.

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