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Institute of

OF Organic Farming


Small grain legumes in organic feeds for pigs and poultry

© Thünen-Institut/OL

Small grain legumes as a protein and roughage source in organic feeds for pigs and poultry

The use of early harvested alfalfa and red clover (small grain legumes) as valuable feedstuff for pigs and poultry is studied. Both legumes are processed either to whole crop silage or to dried leaf mass.

Background and Objective

The early harvested aboveground biomass of small grain legumes contain considerable amounts of protein and amino acids, which are needed in pig and poultry feeding. Feeding trials using alfalfa silage for fattening pigs, broiler chicken and laying hens showed that small grain legumes have a great potential of eco conform feeding of monogastric animals if adapted feeding strategies are applied. They do not only contribute considerable amounts of protein and amino acids. In addition, they comply with the regulations on the use of roughage for organic pigs and chickens. Since leaves contain more protein and less fiber than the stems, a high-quality protein feed can be obtained by separating the leaf and the stem. To provide highly valuable feedstuffs derived from small grain legumes, processing solutions must be developed and put into practice.

This approach can contribute to achieving a 100% organic feeding on basis of domestic feed. It would therefore support the aims of organic farming, which feels explicitly committed to the principles of regional material cycles, also for pig and poultry feeding.



  • Cultivation and testing of suitable alfalfa and red clover varieties for specific use as protein feed for organic poultry and pig feeding.
  • Testing and further development of existing large-scale techniques for leaf/stem separation in alfalfa and red clover.
  • Use of alfalfa and red clover products (whole crop silage and dried leaves) with a high feeding value and health-promoting effect in organic poultry and pig feeding. Examination of animal health, behaviour, animal performance (characteristics of fattening performance and carcass quality) and product quality (eggs, meat).
  • Transfer of the results into agricultural practice. Assessment of the practical and economic aspects of the use of alfalfa and red clover products in organic poultry and pig feeding.

Involved external Thünen-Partners

  • Hochschule Weihenstephan-Triesdorf
    (Weihenstephan, Deutschland)
  • Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
    (Gießen, Deutschland)
  • Bayerische Landesanstalt für Landwirtschaft
    (Freising, Poing, Deutschland)
  • Bioland Beratung GmbH
    (Augsburg, Deutschland)

Funding Body

  • Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE)
    (national, öffentlich)


6.2016 - 7.2021

More Information

Project funding number: 2815OE079
Funding program: Bundesprogramm Ökologischer Landbau und andere Formen nachhaltiger Landwirtschaft (BÖLN)
Project status: finished


  1. 0

    Liebhardt P, Maxa J, Bernhardt H, Aulrich K, Thurner S (2022) Comparison of a conventional harvesting technique in Alfalfa and Red Clover with a leaf stripping technique regarding dry matter yield, total leaf mass, leaf portion, crude protein and amino acid contents. Agronomy 12:1408, DOI:10.3390/ agronomy12061408

  2. 1

    Messinger D, Weindl PA, Aulrich K, Pleger L, Bellof G (2022) Growth performance and carcass traits of growing pigs consuming different alfalfa (Medicago sativa) products in organic farming systems. Acta Agric Scand A:in Press, DOI:10.1080/09064702.2022.2141309

  3. 2

    Weindl PN, Weindl PA, Schmidt E, Pleger L, Messinger D, Aulrich K, Schade B, Lehmann M, Bellof G (2022) Photosensitisation and green egg yolks in laying hens caused by the feeding of ensiled alfalfa leaves. Brit Poultry Sci:in Press, DOI:10.1080/00071668.2022.2137387

  4. 3

    Messinger D, Weindl PA, Aulrich K, Pleger L, Weindl PN, Bellof G (2021) Determination of apparent total tract digestibility of nutrients of lucerne (Medicago sativa) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) products in growing pigs. Züchtungskunde 93(5):389-405

  5. 4

    Pleger L, Weindl PN, Weindl PA, Carrasco LS, Leitao C, Zhao M, Aulrich K, Bellof G (2021) Precaecal digestibility of crude protein and amino acids from alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) leaves and silages in broilers. Anim Feed Sci Technol 275:114856, DOI:10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2021.114856

  6. 5

    Aulrich K, Becker K, Bellof G, Böhm H, Bussemas R, Hartmann S, Kirn A, Liebhardt P, Manek G, Maxa J, Messinger D, Paczkowski A, Pleger L, Salomon Y, Thurner S, Weindl PA, Weindl PN, Werner D, Witten S (2021) Schlussbericht zum Thema Grünleguminosen als Eiweiß- und Raufuttermittel in der ökologischen Geflügel- und Schweinefütterung (GRÜNLEGUM). Bonn: BÖLN, 211 p

  7. 6

    Böhm H, Aulrich K (2019) Auswirkung der Schnittfrequenz bei Rotklee auf den Ertrag von Blattmasse, Rohproteingehalt und -ertrag. In: Mühlrath D, Albrecht J, Finckh M, Hamm U, Heß J, Knierim U, Möller D (eds) Innovatives Denken für eine nachhaltige Land- und Ernährungswirtschaft : Beiträge zur 15. Wissenschaftstagung Ökologischer Landbau ; Kassel, 5. bis 8. März 2019. Berlin: Köster, pp 112-113

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