ukrainian alfalfa

Alfalfa hay quality standarts

Hay grading

Alfalfa hay standards provide a more specific distinction among classes of hay. This ensures fairer pricing because it also provides a better estimate than appearance of feeding value prior to purchase.

Table of Quality categories of alfalfa hay

All quality parameters are based on 100% DM

Hay Quality Category CP ADF NDF TDN RFV
Low <16 >35 >44 <56 <130
Fair 16-18 32-35 40-44 56-58 130-150
Good 18-20 29-32 36-40 58-60 150-170
Premium 20-22 27-29 34-36 61-62 170-185
Supreme > 22 < 27 < 34 > 62 > 185

Terms explaination

Dry matter (DM)
is the percentage of the forage that is not water.
Crude protein (CP)
is a mixture of true protein and non-protein nitrogen, and also includes insoluble crude protein. It is estimated by measuring the total nitrogen in the sample and multiplying this value by 6.25. In general, a high CP level is desirable, but a high CP level is not always indicative of highly nutritious forage. It is usually obtained by harvesting at an early growth stage.
Acid detergent fiber (ADF)
represents the portion of the forage remaining after a weak acid digestion and contains cellulose, lignin, silica, and insoluble nitrogen compounds. In general, as forage plants mature, ADF increases and digestibility of forage decreases. While it has been commonly used to predict digestibility, ADF has not been shown consistently to be highly correlated with actual digestibility. Low ADF is desirable.
Neutral detergent fiber (NDF)
represents the cell wall portion of the forage and includes hemicellulose and the ADF components. The NDF portion is only partially digestible. Neutral detergent fiber is negatively correlated with intake - the higher the percentage NDF, the less of the forage the animal will eat. Thus, low NDF is desirable. Neutral detergent fiber increases as forages mature.
Total digestible nutrients (TDN)
is an estimate of the total amount of nutrients in a forage that is digestible by the animal.
Relative feed value (RFV)
is an index that combines ADF and NDF nutritional factors to arrive at one number to measure and compare forage quality. It is used to allocate forages with varying digestibility and intake to different livestock classes. In addition, it is used extensively for marketing hay and price determination.


Early hay standards established grades on visual estimates only, but these estimates of quality were subjective and difficult to substantiate. Still, while it is not recommended to assess hay quality on appearance alone, certainly visual observations of the hay are important. An initial visual estimate of hay quality can alert you to hay that might or might not be worth buying. It is difficult to estimate the actual nutritive value of hay based on looks, and visual criteria are not necessarily related to animal performance. Bright green, vibrant looking hay may not always test high, and hay with a poor appearance may be of good quality but give an impression of low nutrition. Buyers and sellers should use both laboratory results and visual appraisal to set a fair price. Several factors should be considered when inspecting a bale or load of hay, including maturity, leafiness, color, proportion and coarseness of stems, foreign material (including weeds), odor, mold, and dust. Leaves are the most digestible part of the plant and contain the most protein, so they should be retained as much as possible. Also, green color is an indicator of high vitamin A content and implies proper curing.


Very early maturity, pre-bloom, very soft, fine-stemmed, extra leafy - factors contributing to a very high nutritive content. Hay is excellent in color, free of damage, mold, dust, or foreign material. For legumes, this will occur at bud to first flower or just before blooming.


Early maturity, pre-bloom, fine-stemmed, extra leafy - factors contributing to a high nutritive content. Hay is green and free of damage, mold, dust, or foreign material (< 5%). Also occurs from bud to first bloom in legumes.


Early to average maturity, that is, early- to mid-bloom (first flower to 50% of plants in bloom). Leafy, fine- to medium-stemmed, free of damage, mold, and dust, slight discoloration.


Late maturity, mid- to late-bloom (> 50% of plants in bloom). Moderate or low leaf content and generally coarse-stemmed. Hay may show slight damage.


Hay in very late maturity with mature seedpods. Very coarse-stemmed. Could include hay discounted due to excessive damage and heavy weed content or mold.


While laboratory analyses and visual inspections are helpful in determining the feed value of hay, the most accurate test of quality is animal performance. High-quality hay will be readily consumed. Animal performance is determined by intake, digestibility, and nutrient content, and is also impacted by toxic compounds within the hay product.

Last update: October 4, 2016
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