One prominent legume that seems to appeal to both humans and animals alike is called alfalfa. This crop has become increasingly widespread across North America due to its high nutritional value. Also referred to as lucern, this green leafy vegetable contains more than 20 percent protein by weight and is rich in calcium, iron, phosphorus and vitamin C. Humans can reap similar benefits from feeding deer, horses and cattle alfalfa pellets. Read on to find out why deer love to snack on this legume.
Do Deer Eat Alfalfa Pellets?
Yes, Alfalfa pellets are food for deer, and they do eat them, as well. It’s actually part of their favorite alfalfa plant. Alfalfa pellets are a favorite food for deer because they are easy for them to eat. If the deer keep eating food that isn’t good for them, they will starve to death and die.
If deer eat food that they can’t break down, they can starve to death. At least some of the time in the Upper Peninsula, about 25% corn and 75% di-cut alfalfa worked. If you want to feed deer, feed pellets are usually the best option as long as they are in good shape.
Related: How to Attract Deer
The Benefits of Feeding Deer Alfalfa Pellets
When you think of wild deer, chances are you picture tall forests filled with leafy greens, brush piles and clusters of trees. While the idea of roaming fields strewn with lush green foliage seems downright idyllic, reality dictates otherwise. Wild deer need abundant supplies of natural vegetation for proper nourishment, and they prefer to munch on plants rather than grains whenever possible.
Although they’ll occasionally nibble on tree bark and twigs, wild deer rely heavily upon natural foods such as clover and other leafy greens. On top of providing adequate nutrition, these kinds of pastures provide shelter from predators and serve as breeding grounds for insects, worms, snails and various species of bacteria.
Deer are naturally drawn toward areas with plentiful vegetation, so it stands to reason that the same holds true for humans. By offering a wide array of healthy options, alfalfa pellets appeal to deer no matter where they roam.
As mentioned previously, these products provide higher concentrations of important minerals and vitamins than hay, plus they tend to smell better. Not only do pellets contain three times more calcium per serving than hay, but they also boast twice as much phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and nitrogen. Additionally, pellets are packed tightly together and sealed airtight to prevent spoilage.
Since the process involves dehydrating the raw material first, pellets retain moisture longer than hay. Due to the lower nutrient content of hay, feeding your horse hay during cold seasons results in decreased performance. During hot summer months, hay becomes extremely dry and brittle, causing digestion issues. By contrast, pellets remain moist long after production.
So far we’ve discussed the pros of using alfalfa pellets, but let’s take a look at the cons next. After reading our list, you should feel confident knowing that pellets are definitely worth considering as a viable substitute for hay.
As with hay, alfalfa pellets are prone to molding within days of arrival. To avoid this issue, purchase bags containing multiple layers of pelletized alfalfa. When opened, seal each bag immediately in order to prevent contamination. Make sure to rinse away visible dust particles later on. Another option would be to place pellets inside paper towels and wrapping them loosely in plastic wrap until ready to distribute to your horses’ stalls.
Alfalfa Digestion Process
When most people think of feeding deer or other ungulates a supplemental diet, they usually envision giving them grain feed or chopped timothy hay. However, if you look closer at how most domestic mammals naturally obtain energy, you’ll see that they don’t need much help from us. They actually manage quite well without our intervention using things already available to them in nature.
That being said, the main reason deer and other ruminants thrive off of grasses and legumes is because of their ability to break down cellulose fibers found within them. Ruminant digestive systems consist of four compartments: the rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum.
These chambers act like stomachs inside of larger ones, and each section breaks down different components of plants based on special enzymes produced by bacteria in the gut. Each compartment works together to create complete digestion through microbial action. Within the rumen, specialized microbes ferment carbohydrates contained in plants.
Then after passing through the pyloric spout located near the exit site, the now partially digested meals pass into the small intestine where further breakdown occurs. Once the process is completed, blood carries the remaining nutrients into the liver and kidneys where they then get processed into various forms of proteins and sugars.
The whole process of breaking down complex molecules to simpler forms takes place only once it reaches the rumen. So what happens when a ruminant consumes something that doesn’t go right to the rumen? If it ends up getting eaten before reaching the rumen, the rest will simply waste away.
Enter alfalfa pellets
When deer take in alfalfa, they end up chewing the stems and leaves first to soften them up before swallowing. From there, the entire pellet enters the rumen chamber intact. Because it’s softer, the alfalfa won’t immediately start dissolving and undergoing fermentation. Instead, it passes through the mouth and into the rumen unhindered, where it begins to slowly degrade into glucose.
After several hours, the microorganisms responsible for this stepwise transformation begin working overtime to convert the glucan directly to volatile fatty acids. Now the alfalfa starts showing signs of fermentation as the resulting gas pushes against the walls of the rumen, causing the rumen fluid to swell.
During this stage, the pellet becomes mostly liquid rather than solid.
To prevent too much pressure building up inside the rumen, herbivores shift their focus onto finding places to lie down and wallow in the mixture. Eventually, the liquid portion settles toward the bottom of the rumen and the solid part rises to the top.
A few days later, a new layer of bacteria develops on the surface of the pellet, and another phase of liquefaction commences. By day three, the entire mass should be completely dissolved, and the next batch of microbes begin transforming the leftover bits into methane.
After the initial degradation processes mentioned above happen, the remainder of the alfalfa remains relatively undigested. Therefore, the final products of digestion aren’t primarily amino acids or simple sugars, but nitrogen compounds and lipids.
These substances may seem insignificant compared to the calories provided by sugar and carbs, but they play important roles in maintaining healthy body functions. Nitrogen compounds provide fuel for cells, and fats form antibodies and cell membranes. Lipids strengthen mucus barriers inside the intestines, and minerals bind to the nitrogen-rich peptides left behind after digestion.