When it comes to alfalfa and alfalfa sprouts, there is definitely no “in-between” preference. Part of a salad or as a sandwich filling, you love them or you hate them.
But how about our chickens? Chickens seem to love all sorts of things that grow and sprout, so can they have alfalfa to eat?
Yes, chickens may eat alfalfa. This sprouting, flowering perennial is an excellent and healthy option for supplementing your chicken’s diet in just about any form. Chickens may eat mature alfalfa, sprouts, hay, and dehydrated alfalfa feed with no issues.
So while alfalfa is a contentious ingredient for most people, your birds are not going to feel the same way and will likely love the stuff. You’ll love how much nutrition it gives them.
But as with all supplemental snacks and health foods, you don’t want to overdo it, and knowing the best way to serve it to them is important.
Keep reading and we will tell you everything you need to know.
Nutritional Profile of Alfalfa
Alfalfa is another extremely nutritious offering for people and chickens alike, with a robust vitamin and mineral profile that is the envy of lesser lettuces and cabbages that usually compete with it in the salad bowl.
Alfalfa contains an impressive amount of protein for a vegetable this type, a modest amount of fiber, and a significant amount of water.
But most impressive is the vitamin content. Containing an excellent amount of vitamins K, B2, B5, and C it also features good levels of vitamins B1 and folate.
The mineral content is similarly solid, with zinc, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium strongly represented, and iron coming up just behind.
There is a meaningful amount of calcium and potassium present as well.
Health Benefits of Alfalfa for Chickens
Alfalfa can do wonders for your chickens so long as you feed it to them in moderation as described below.
Protein is the most important macronutrient for chickens and alfalfa provides a good amount of it.
This is essential for healthy growth, development of plumage, muscle development, and egg production in laying hens.
Alfalfa is also an excellent source of vitamins K, B2, B5, and C, as well as vitamins B1 and folate.
These vitamins are important for a variety of bodily functions, including metabolism, egg production, feather growth, and blood clotting.
The mineral content of alfalfa is also noteworthy, with zinc, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium present in significant quantities.
This mineral profile is essential for bone growth, cartilage production, immunity, and metabolic function. Calcium is now as ever necessary for strong bones and healthy eggshells.
As you can see, alfalfa provides a wide range of essential nutrients that can be highly beneficial for your chickens, and is a great way to boost the health of your flock overall, whether you have layers or not!
Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa Raw?
Yes, your chickens can eat alfalfa raw in any form. Serving your chickens raw alfalfa is the best way to ensure they drive maximum nutrition from eating it.
Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa Sprouts?
Despite all the hand ringing that people sometimes do over alfalfa sprouts as a garnish or ingredient in salads and on sandwiches, alfalfa sprouts are completely safe for chickens and are likely their favorite way to eat them.
These small and tender shoots are much easier for them to swallow and digest than mature alfalfa.
Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa Hay?
Chickens can eat alfalfa hay, but most seem to show a distinct preference for sprouts or young alfalfa.
If you want to set a block of alfalfa hay for them to nibble on or scatter some around, they will probably peck at it periodically but you should also expect them to lose interest.
Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa Pellets and Feed?
As you might expect, chickens may eat alfalfa that has been processed into pellets or other forms of feed.
Do keep in mind that much alfalfa feed is sold in sizes that is too large for chickens to safely swallow.
They will peck at it in an attempt to break it down, but if you are wise you will grind or crush it up ahead of time before serving it to them in order to eliminate the chance of choking.
Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa Cooked?
Alfalfa is not often cooked, at least in North America, but your chickens will eat it if you cook it.
Gently cooking mature or tough alfalfa is a good way to soften it up and make it more appealing to your birds.
Never Feed Alfalfa to Chickens that Has Been Prepared with Harmful Ingredients
Just as a reminder, if you do plan on cooking alfalfa or preparing any food with alfalfa as an ingredient you must not serve it to your chickens if it has been cooked or otherwise prepared with any other harmful ingredients that they should not eat.
Various spices, salt, sugar, butter, oils, and the like are all bad for chickens, causing digestive trouble and weight gain at best and potentially serious health problems at worst.
Beware of Pesticides on Grocery-bought Alfalfa
If you purchase alfalfa sprouts or any other commercially available form at your local grocery store or supermarket you must take care to wash it thoroughly in order to remove pesticide and other chemical residues.
Pretty much every, single fruit and vegetable it is intended for sale to people at the retail level will have been treated with a pesticide at some point.
Many of these pesticides are bad enough for people, but they can be downright dangerous for chickens if they ingest enough of them.
Always make sure you thoroughly wash or soak your produce, including alfalfa, before serving it to your birds if you purchase it at the grocery store.
How Often Can Chickens Have Alfalfa?
You might think that chickens can have alfalfa anytime they want because it is so healthy, but this isn’t a good idea.
As good as it is, alfalfa is not nutritionally complete, and if chickens fill up on it or overindulge in it health problems might arise.
Generally, you will want to give your chickens alfalfa as a supplemental treat or addition to their feed once or twice a week, making sure that you do not exceed they are recommended caloric intake.
Most experts advise that 10% to 20% of a chicken’s total calorie intake should be in the form of wholesome, supplemental food items with the majority of meal selection being a nutritionally complete chicken feed.
Preparing Alfalfa for Your Flock
Giving alfalfa to your chickens is simple. Whatever form it is in, just make sure it is small enough for them to peck and swallow and they will be fine.
Your chickens will readily pull apart a small “tumbleweed” of sprouts or swallow chunks of dehydrated alfalfa pellets or other feed. Remember to break up large pellets for easier consumption before giving it to them.
Alfalfa hay, as mentioned, is not their favorite but they will work on it over time if they like it at all.
Can Baby Chicks Have Alfalfa, Too?
Yes, chicks can have alfalfa just like adults can, although you want to use a little caution and discretion before feeding it to them.
Since chicks have especially sensitive digestive systems, you’ll want to hold off on giving them any supplemental treats like this until they are at least 6 weeks old.
Doing so earlier risks crop problems and bad reactions.
Once they’re old enough to have some alfalfa, a smaller form is generally better, with most chicks seeming to prefer sprouts above everything else.
Clean Up After Your Birds are Done with the Alfalfa
One more reminder, make it a point to clean up after your chickens as soon as they are done with the alfalfa.
Alfalfa sprouts and hay especially seem to go bad quicker than other products and kinds of hay respectively.
If chickens try to eat rotting or molding food, it could make them very ill, and you can eliminate the possibility along with the intrusion of pests drawn by the smell, by cleaning up as soon as they are done eating.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.