Which alternative forage legumes can be grown if alfalfa production is not acceptable? Forage legumes are important feed components of dairy cow diets. When harvested timely, they add critical nutrients such as protein, energy, and minerals, which help balance the ration while reducing the need for expensive supplements. Since the early days of modern livestock production, when it comes to supplying quality nutrients, alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) has been labeled the “queen of forages”.
There are however some limitations to its production depending on the region and soil pH. In north-central Mexico for example small grain cereals such as oats, barley, wheat and triticale are used as alternative crops to alfalfa during the fall-winter cycle. One of their disadvantages are their lower crude protein content at harvest time, together with their lower digestibility.
There are other legumes however that can compete fairly with alfalfa and produce not only quality forage but provide an alternative to use in different environments. One such forage is the common vetch (Vicia sativa L.) which not only supplies valuable nutrients such as protein and more digestible fiber, but also helps improve soil structure and fertility. This plant is useful not only for dairy cow feeding but also in other livestock production systems such as beef cattle as well as small ruminants. There is a need however to better understand its management under different regions and conditions.
Advantages of feeding vetch as an alternative forage legume
Vetch has traditionally been used for grazing and hay production with the advantage of tolerating lower temperatures (-10 °C) before going dormant. It also has the same nitrogen-fixating properties when compared to alfalfa which makes it an excellent forage alternative and even a companion crop to cereals in relatively poor soils.