Crop Corner: Lucerne

A common species for commercial grazing or making into hay or chaff

Crop corner is here to help you identify what is in your pasture and how it benefits your grazing animals.
Lucerne is a legume grown and fed to a range of livestock (although mainly sheep and cattle) on commercial farms. Lucerne is grown as either a sole crop or as a mixed sward with other crops and grasses. It is also commonly grown to be made into hay or chaff (also known as alfalfa hay) for horses and other species. With a high nutritive value and very palatable, lucerne is great for satiety and is digested quickly in the animal’s stomach, meaning they can eat greater quantities without getting full.

Lucerne Plant
Lucerne seedlings are slow growing, taking months for the crown to form atop the root system. When lucerne is young, it looks like a clover. As it matures, the leaves become longer, and the plant will produce lilac-coloured flowers. The flowers give way to ‘fruits’ that contain seeds. These seeds possess autotoxicity, meaning the lucerne has trouble growing subsequent lucerne plants.
Lucerne has a much deeper root system than most crops, so it is considered moderately drought tolerant.

Lucerne Hay
Lucerne hay is high quality and has a number of benefits including:

  • High protein content (15 – 21%) – this is essential for the growth and maintenance of muscle tissue.
  • High digestibility – animals can extract more nutrients from their feed.
  • Rich in vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, essential amino acids, and vitamins A and D. It also has an appropriate level of phosphorus.
  • High fibre content (20-30%) – great for maintaining a healthy digestive system and for leaving animals feeling full and satisfied.
  • High energy content – great for horses in work. Helps keep animals warm during colder months.


Lucerne hay is a rich feed so should be introduced gradually into the animal’s diet. Always check any hay/chaff for mould or dust before feeding. If there are any signs of mould do not feed! Do not feed to pregnant mares as it has been reported to cause premature lactation and delivery.