Hay and Alfalfa: their differences and importance in rodents diet!

bales of hay in a green field
06 July 2020 Pets4Company

Do you know the difference between hay and alfalfa? Find out its characteristics and its role in rodents diet!

What is hay?

When we speak of hay we do not mean a specific type of plant, quite the contrary: we can call hay any mixture of plants, grasses and legumes, which pass through a hay process.

The hay process consists of removing the water from these plants forage, dehydrating them, which allows them to be preserved for much longer while maintaining their nutritional value .

Hay has been used since very early by cattle ranching people. It can be preserved even in the most hostile environments and feed animals in times when fresh food is lacking.



What is alfalfa?

Alfalfa  also known as lucerne hay, is a plant from the highly nutritious perennial leaf family that has been used in the feeding of various animals over the centuries.

Its origin dates back to the south-central region of Asia, but it was the Persians who first cultivated it as a source of food for cattle and army horses. Persian invasions took this plant to Greece around 490 BC, having arrived in Italy in the first century AD - we can find some local documents dated at the time explaining how to plant and maintain alfalfa crops. It ends up spreading to some more European countries and is believed to have arrived in Spain around the 8th century during the Muslim invasions. However, it is the Spaniards who will introduce alfalfa to the American continent during explorations of the 16th century.

maquinas coletando feno num campo

Appearance, Nutrition and Palate:

Being a plant of the legume family, its smell and flavor become more attractive compared to hay of other species. It is, however, agreed that their consumption should be moderate by applying this rule to most animal species.

Its color is usually a brighter green with vast leaves and thick stems.

Alfalfa is valued for its high nutritional content. On average it contains 18% crude protein and 23% fiber. It is rich in calcium, phosphorus and minerals and its caloric content and moisture level are slightly higher than most hays. A large part of these nutrients are contained in the leaves and in less quantity in the stems, no less important, since the stems help dental health by providing cleaning of teeth wear in species whose teeth are continuously growing.

It is important to store alfalfa in a cool, dry place as moisture can lead to molds and fungi harmful to the airways and digestive system of animals.

When too dry, alfalfa easily loses its green hue and acquires a yellow and strawy appearance.

coelho branco e castanho comendo plantas

The difference between hay and alfalfa in rodent feeding:

In summary, the difference between hay and alfalfa is in its composition: although the alfalfa sold to rodents is also a type of hay (lucerne hay) is much richer in calcium and protein than common hay, and should not be administered in large quantities since its excessive consumption can cause kidney problems (excess calcium), in addition to contributing to the animal's obesity.

The plants that most commonly make up casual hay have a low caloric value and reduced calcium levels which allows it to be provided as a safe food and without restrictions on most species.