Alfalfa pellets vs cubes and hay

alfalfa pellets

Even though I have written about feeding alfalfa pellets to goats, I still get a lot of questions about exactly how pellets are different than cubes or hay and how they should be used as part of a goat’s diet, as well as other livestock.

Can alfalfa pellets or cubes totally replace hay?

If you are asking about sheep, goats, and cattle, the answer is no. Ruminants cannot live on a diet of only alfalfa pellets. Ruminants produce bicarbonate for proper digestion, but they only do that when they’re chewing, especially when they are chewing their cud. The longer stemmed forage takes more chewing. So, if you only fed them pellets, which are pulverized hay, they would not have to chew much. If you give them cubes, they will have to chew a little more because it has not been chopped up quite as small as the hay in the pellets, but it would still not require anywhere near as much chewing as hay, pasture, and browse do.

If your animals are on pasture all day long, and you are just giving them something to munch on in the barn, then yes, you can give them pellets instead of hay because they’ve just spent all day eating things that required a lot of chewing.

Horses and pigs have a single stomach, so none of the above info applies to them. Feeding hay pellets, especially to senior horses with few teeth, is a viable option, especially if they are soaked in water first.

How much should I feed?

Since grain is also made into “pellets,” this can get confusing. But the nutritional content of hay pellets, cubes, and baled hay are all exactly the same. So, don’t confuse hay pellets with grain pellets. They have nothing in common with each other. You can feed the same number of pounds of pellets, cubes, and hay. Since you don’t need to limit most baled hay, there is not really a limit to how much pellets and cubes you can feed.

However, keep in mind that alfalfa hay is not appropriate for bucks, wethers, rams, or some horses. If you would not feed alfalfa hay to an animal, then you should not feed alfalfa pellets to that animal.

Grass pellets are also available. If we can’t get enough grass hay for our bucks for the winter, we buy the Standlee Timothy grass pellets for them. I give them a flake of hay twice a day to keep their rumen working and I supplement them with as much hay pellets as they will eat before losing interest. For my Nigerian dwarf bucks, that is usually between one to two cups each feeding. If I give them more than that, they get full and walk away before they are completely finished. (And then someone winds up peeing and pooping in the feed pan, which means the leftover pellets are now garbage.)

What about cubes?

Cubes are made for horses and cattle, and because the hay has not been completely pulverized, it does require more chewing than pellets do. However, the cubes are too big and hard for goats and sheep to eat. When we sold our cattle and had half a bag of cubes left, I broke them apart into smaller pieces for the goats, but that is not something I would normally do. So, if you find yourself with some cubes, they can be used with sheep and goats with a little work, but the pellets are definitely easier to use with them. 

Which should you choose?

I like to keep things as close to natural as possible, which means feeding baled hay. It is the closest thing to animals eating directly from the pasture, and it provides the long-stemmed forage that ruminants need to keep their rumen working properly. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. I live in the middle of corn and soybean country, and not that many farmers grow hay. Rarely am I able to get all of the alfalfa and grass hay that I need to last me all winter. That’s why I started using Standlee hay pellets as soon as they started selling them in my area more than ten years ago.

People with physical challenges may also prefer to avoid baled hay. If you’ve read my book, Raising Goats Naturally, you may recall the story of a woman who lives in Texas who feeds only hay pellets for nine months a year. She said, “I started feeding alfalfa pellets as I hit my 40s. I had always hauled and stacked my own hay, and sold a lot also. I was trying to pitch some heavy bales of alfalfa up to the sixth level when the whole side of the pile fell down, pinning me to the ground in the 90+ºF and 90 percent humidity.” However, keep in mind that her goats have access to pasture and browse, so they are able to keep their rumen healthy with a lot of leaves, pine needles, twigs, and other natural delicacies.

alfalfa pellets

 

A year and a half ago I became a brand ambassador for Standlee because I’ve been using and loving and recommending their products for more than ten years already. I decided to write this post because at least once a week I wind up explaining all of this to someone, so now I can just give them a link to this post.

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55 thoughts on “Alfalfa pellets vs cubes and hay”

    • Do you realize that StanLee’s peletts are GMO? Which will kill the intestinal probiotics in your animals? Not a good choice.

      Reply
      • It’s not quite that simple. If it killed all of the bacteria, the goats would die. They are totally reliant on the bacteria in their rumen for proper digestion to take place. But Standlee does have organic alfalfa available for those who prefer to use that.

        Reply
    • I feed baled grass/horse hay but have struggled with constant quality of grass hay at times and i believe the use of standlee grass pellets would be JUST THE THING for addition to my mixed goat herd!
      Thanks, cathy stoll, south range wi

      Reply
  1. All my goats get 80/20 which is 80 percent grass 20 percent Alfalfa
    Bucks included. I only start grain after my gal delivered. This is my first year with goats and just had my first birthing- a buckling and a Doeling. Dams birthing was quick and clean babes were up and running within minutes- the buckling was liiking to nurse within minutes and quite vocal about it the doeling took a few minutes more.
    The day after I brought to mom some manzanita and while eating the doeling was already nibbling.
    I am determined to keep their diet as close to natural as possible.

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    • just be careful with high calcium food for bucks of any age I lost 2 bucks to urinary stones. Be careful.

      Reply
      • The post does say that alfalfa is not appropriate for bucks and links to a post that explains that in more detail. Too much calcium can lead to zinc deficiency. Grass hay does not have that much calcium, so you should feed timothy or oat grass pellets to bucks and wethers.

        Reply
  2. I have used pellets (very briefly) in the past; I may have to go back to them as it is getting harder to find hay certain times a year.

    I love your posts, keep them coming!

    Reply
  3. I have horses and goats that are mainly fed together. I feed coastal grass, triticale and alfalfa hay. I do use alfalfa pellets if running low on baled feed. Also when the wind blows. (West Texas wind) I would like to try cubes to see if they like those.

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  4. We are fortunate to bale our own hay, but weather conditions effect the amount we get every year. Too wet or too dry and we are “too short” by the end of the winter. That’s where I am right now. Was heading to TSC last night to buy my first bale of Standlee when my dad came up with 3 bales of our hay for me. But that won’t last long and I will be heading to TSC again! I have used the pellets several times over the last year. Thank you for this information!!

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  5. I add alfalfa pellets to grain to keep my does occupied longer on the milk stand. I’ve seen the cubes in Tractor Supply and wondered if they could also be used. Thanks for this post!

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    • The cubes are too big for goats. They’re for cattle. Just realized I should have included that in the article!

      Reply
  6. I feed whatever hay I can get (alfalfa, Timothy, Bermuda) and always have a bag of the Standlee pellet on hand in case I can’t get hay. I live on the Big Island of Hawaii, and our feed stores seem to run out pretty frequently, so I have it for when I can’t get hay. I also have the cubes and just break off thinner pieces for them. They seem to really like those as a treat if they’re small enough.

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  7. Sorry. but your statement that bucks can’t have alfalfa is completely incorrect. I have raised both dairy and meat goats for over 10 years. feeding my bucks nothing but alfalfa their whole lives. Alfalfa does not cause urinary calculi. Imbalance of calcium and phosphorus does. Goats need a 2:1 Ca:Ph ratio. Alfalfa is high in calcium while grain and grass hay are high in phosphorus. An alfalfa and grain feeding regimen helps keep the ratio correct. A grass and grain feeding regimen will be heavy on phosphorus and begging for UC. Your mineral must have the 2 :1 ratio as well but is not enough to offset a poorly balanced diet of grass hay and grain .

    Reply
    • The post does NOT say that alfalfa causes urinary calculi in bucks. If you click on the link in that paragraph it takes you to a post on zinc deficiency that explains everything fully. If your bucks get plenty of pasture and/or browse along with the alfalfa, they might be fine, but a diet of pure alfalfa for bucks can lead to zinc deficiency because of the high calcium in the alfalfa. (Calcium is a zinc antagonist.) It has happened to my bucks multiple times when I was unable to get enough grass hay in the winter.

      P.S. This post was reviewed by a nutritionist before publishing.

      Reply
      • I didn’t say that the post says alfalfa causes UC. I said your statement that bucks (and horses) should not have alfalfa is incorrect.
        I mentioned UC because it is a common wives take that alfalfa causes it.
        You’re point about zinc solidifies my point…..everything has to be in balance.

        Reply
  8. I would like to supplement with pellets and am trying to figure out where to buy them in my area of Maine. Thanks for this information!

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  9. We have been using the pellets and grazing, but I wondered about the the cubes.
    Wonder no more thanks for the the info! Your site is a blessing

    Reply
  10. We have just started adding pellets as a supplement to orchard grass hay and browse. Thanks for clearing up the info about CA to P ratio.

    Reply
  11. I just started using the Standlee Alfalfa pellets for our currently pregnant does. Down here in the deep South you can not grow Alfalfa and so this is a great source for this to supplement the Orchard hay my girls normally get free choice and the browse and pasture they get as long as it is not raining (which it has been doing a lot this winter). The higher level of protein and calcium in the Alfalfa is a nice boost as they are growing babies and getting ready to milk.

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    • I am from Tx and Oklahoma and we grew lots of alfalfa there. May I ask Why you cannot grow hay int he deep south?

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  12. I feed baled hay and give grain to pg and nursing does. I want to try the cubes because I have heard so much about them!

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  13. I feed Timothy hay mix to all my goats cause I can’t get alfalfa hay for my girls and I supplement with Timothy pellets for my buck and wether and alfalfa pellets for the does. I do mix the pellets with grain occasionally.. They are all under 1 except for my Nubian she is 3 . So hopefully I’m doing thing right I’m kinda new to the goat family since last year. Any advise I would appreciate and if I’m doing something wrong I would love to know so I can do it different. Thanks.

    Reply
    • I too am new at this. I only have two Nigerian dwarf goats. I had them fixed and they are my pets. I feed them alphalfa hay and Purina chow with a scoop of probiotics every day. They also have minerals and baking soda available all the time and s salt lick. Is there anything else I should be doing?

      Reply
      • Wethers do not need grain or alfalfa. They will probably get overweight on that diet and could also wind up with a zinc deficiency because they don’t need all of the calcium that’s in alfalfa. Grain can also cause urinary calculi (stones), and they don’t need it. Castrated males just need a good green grass hay, pasture, browse, and a free choice mineral. Here is more on diet. https://thriftyhomesteader.com/what-do-goats-eat-it-depends/

        Reply
  14. I use a combo of pellets and grass hay, but really appreciate your explanation. I’ll be sharing this as a resource when people ask me about pellets.

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  15. I would love very much to try a bag of pellets. It would def help me to stretch out my hay as much as possible sometimes. I think would be great to add some extra when colder too.

    Reply
    • I’m not sure what you mean about nurturing your goat. You said, “he,” so sounds like you have a male, and there is no circumstance where alfalfa is good for them. Maybe you mean neuter? A wether (castrated male) has even lower nutritional needs than an intact buck does, so they would probably wind up with a problem sooner than an intact buck. Wethers are very easy keepers.

      Not sure if you have goats yet or not, but you really should have at least two because they are herd animals and will be happier and healthier if they have a goat friend or two.

      Reply
  16. Hay is getting harder and harder to find her in the midwest I am thinking that the cubes would be a great alternative.
    .

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    • If you have goats or sheep, the pellets are better. Cubes are too big for them, so you have to break them up, which is really time consuming. If it’s all you can get, it can work, but pellets would be easier. The cubes are great for horses and cows.

      Reply
  17. What would be the ratio of type of hay would you give does, nursing does, growing kids to 2ys?
    I have a farmer that does a “mix” but unsure if it satisfying them as they want to eat non stop!

    Reply
  18. I have a colt and can’t geld yet he stays in a stall till I get off work to graze but it only like 2 hrs I want something that can help him like all the other horses out in pasture! I feed him alfalfa pellets every other day but I soak them due to he don’t got his 6 month old teeth yet! But he gets hay 3 times a day and feed twice

    Reply
  19. I live in Maine and would love to try your Alfalfa pellets as im new to this and we have some long winters, I’m looking for better products for my two Nigerian dwarf goats over the season.

    Reply
    • Yes, the Standlee, Alfalfa pellets are the best I have tried. I have not tried the organic as yet. I also found after 7 years of selective breeding of Genemaster goats, that the pasture, Alfalfa pellets, copper boluses ( I divide the 15gram cap, and give 1/2 into some feed 3 times a year), start a little grain during the middle of gestation period, and up the pellets/grain to about 50/50 last 1&1/2 months, with Sweetlix minerals, and some BOSS. I also give a few raisins/molasses cookies last month for energy, as a threat. I found that too much grain also had a negative affect on the hooves of the goats, and required more trimming. I use some of the supplement for horse hooves, in small amounts to my goats, and jennies, and I see a good difference in their feet quickly. I use the Biotin vitamins daily for my goats. I also found that IBC containers make a quick shelter for goats, and old used car tires on my metal gates saved the day f rom a 275 to 300lb, male goat battering down a bull gate. Yep, I replaced two battered flat by two opposing (Kiko/Genemaster) males, and I don’t like electric wires, and the tires saved the day. You are blessed with the tiny(to me) goats you can pick up and handle! I enter the pasture walking lightly, with a large stick.
      Good posts by all

      Reply
  20. I currently give my 2 senior goats timothy hay pellets but have been researching giving them chaffhaye instead of our baled hay because it is low quality hay due to our horse suffering from chronic laminitis and they don’t eat much of it. Has anyone had any experience with chaffhaye and is it ok for wether goats?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  21. I would love to try the alfalfa cubes on my gelding. I’m just wondering if they cause choke at all? (I know any animal can have that happen but )

    Reply
    • I assume you are talking about a gelded horse, and alfalfa cubes are not a problem for them. They are made for horses and cows.

      Reply
  22. I am switching to alfalfa pellets next month. We cannot buy hay here and have to cut by hand. Alfalfa grows wild, but cutting every day for 11 mouths is too much for me.
    Also, no browse. It is not possible here in the northern Andes. I wish.
    Anyway, I can cut enough to supplement their diets, but not enough to feed them a straight diet of hay.
    I just read a study that demonstrated that the pellets are more digestible, and once their gut biome adapts (one week), their rumens are perfectly fine and healthy even without adding hay or other grasses. The sheep and goats in this study were fed exclusively, either alfalfa hay or alfalfa pellets. Digestability was doubled in the pellets only group.
    However, the study was not very long, so I am going to err on the side of caution and give small amounts of hay each evening.

    Reply
    • Could you share a link to the study? I’d love to read it. I hope they included other details, as well, such as whether the goats were getting free choice baking soda.

      Reply

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