Lucerne hay, commonly known as alfalfa in many parts of the world, is a high-quality forage known for its rich protein content and essential vitamins and minerals. Assessing the quality of lucerne hay is crucial for livestock health and nutrition. Here are key factors to consider when evaluating lucerne hay quality:
- Good quality lucerne hay should be bright green, indicating proper harvesting and storage conditions.
- Yellow, brown, or faded hay might suggest over-maturity, excessive sunlight exposure, or weather damage after harvesting.
Texture & Leafiness:
- The leaves of lucerne contain most of the nutrients, so a high leaf-to-stem ratio is desirable.
- Hay that is leafy and soft is often of higher quality. Coarse hay with thick stems might suggest over-maturity.
- Fresh lucerne hay should have a pleasant, sweet aroma.
- A musty, moldy, or fermented smell indicates poor storage or excessive moisture when baled, both of which can lead to mold or other decay.
Absence of Mold & Dust:
- Always check both the exterior and interior of a bale. Moldy or dusty hay can be harmful to animals and indicate storage issues or health hazards.
Foreign Matter & Purity:
- Quality hay should be free of contaminants, including weeds, other grasses, or foreign plants. Some weeds can be toxic to animals.
- Check for non-plant materials too, like stones, dirt, or metal.
- Fine, thin stems usually indicate the hay was harvested at an optimal growth stage, ensuring high nutrient content.
- Thick stems might suggest the hay was cut later in its growth, which may reduce its nutrient density.
Maturity at Harvest:
- Lucerne hay is often cut during the early to mid-bloom stage to ensure a good balance of leaves and nutritional content.
- If the majority of plants have fully matured seeds or heavy flowering, it may mean reduced nutritional value.
- Properly dried hay is essential for preventing mold growth. Hay should be baled at the right moisture level – usually between 15-20%.
- It should feel dry to the touch but not brittle or overly dry.
- To get an accurate measure of lucerne hay quality, especially for high-performance or breeding animals, consider a laboratory analysis. This will provide exact figures on nutrients like protein, fiber, and mineral content.
Origin & Storage:
- Understand where the hay is sourced from. Hay from a reputable grower or dealer usually ensures consistent quality.
- Lucerne hay should be stored in a cool, dry place, off the ground, and protected from the elements to maintain its quality.
In conclusion, while visual and tactile assessments can provide good insights into lucerne hay quality, for the best understanding, especially if the hay's nutritional content is crucial, consider a laboratory analysis. Always ensure proper storage to maintain the quality of the hay over time.