The increasing demand for livestock products has created a great amount of pressure for farmers to improve on production. In order to achieve this, cows have to be provided with well-balanced dietary plans that allow for timely growth and development, health maintenance, reproduction, production as well as their overall performance. As such, since vetch is readily available in most parts of the world and considered as highly nutritious, the agricultural community is aimed at finding out whether cows can eat vetch. An important point to be aware of is that there are two types of vetch and one is said to be safe for animals while the other is not. Therefore, although cows catch eat vetch, it is recommended for farmers to possess adequate knowledge on its nutritional value and the specific type of vetch as errors may have detrimental effects.

Nutritional Value

As previously noted, there are two type of vetch. One is known as hairy vetch and is considered as toxic. The second type is generally referred as common vetch. Studies indicate that cows can eat vetch as it is known for its superior nutritional value. As a matter of fact, vetch is said to contain a higher composition of nutrients in comparison to other types of hay such as cereal straws including barley, oats and wheat. Its nutritional composition is also superior to that of other forages like alfalfa. Common vetch contains an average of 23% crude protein, 25% crude fibre and gross energy of approximately 19MJ/kg dry matter. Additionally, it is a good source of minerals, namely: calcium, phosphorus and amino acids. Note that common vetch is most nutritious at the flowering stage and as the plant matures, a progressive decrease of digestibility is shown.

Improved Performance

Cows can eat vetch as a means of improving their overall performance. Since vetch is good source of protein, it is ideal for growing livestock. Protein is of the essence in cow diets. As such, cows can be provided with vetch in order to absorb proteins needed for timely growth and development, thus increasing profitability. The calcium found in vetch helps in the development of muscle, bone and teeth. An important point to note is that although cows can feed on vetch for the purposes of growth and development, the energy found in the plant may not be enough to sustain high production levels. Ideally, cows require energy levels of about 35 to 45MJ, depending on the production stage. Since vetch contains a lesser amount, cows can possibly lose weight if proper supplements are not provided.

Since the plant is a good source of various nutrients including proteins, energy and minerals, dairy cows can eat vetch as a means of acquiring these essential nutrients. Experts emphasise the importance of proteins and energy for milk production. It is said that dairy cows require diets with high composition of protein which allows them to produce increased milk yields of superior quality. Just as beef cows provided with vetch diets tend to perform better, the same applies to dairy cows. Additionally, since vetch contains a significant amount of minerals, it helps to maintain livestock health which largely impacts on production and generation of profit.

Health Sustenance

For the past few decades, antibiotics were widely used to prevent various diseases and infection thereby keeping animals healthy. However, this practise has been banned in a number of countries. Resultantly, there is need for farmers to provide cows with proper diets including appropriate supplements and necessary additives for health’s sake. As already stated, vetch is considered to be more nutritious than alfalfa and most cereal straws. For this reason, cows can feed on vetch in order to maintain a healthy diet. This basically works by giving the immune system a boost thereby allowing cows some form of resistance against diseases. Also, cows can eat vetch to absorb minerals and trace elements needed to fight free radicals that cause oxidation. Oxidative stress is among the leading problems in livestock farming and often affects the texture and taste of the meat as well as its overall quality. Vetch therefore seems to be an effective solution for the sustenance of livestock health. However, even though cows can eat vetch, farmers should be aware that hairy vetch is highly toxic, thus it is not recommended. Hairy vetch is known to cause a systematic granulomatous disease in cattle.

Is Common Vetch Toxic?

All vetch plants are known for their toxicity, especially the hairy type. It is therefore normal for farmers to wonder if common vetch is just as toxic. As already stated, cows can feed on vetch, particularly common vetch. This is because common vetch is less toxic and therefore can be tolerated by cows. In fact, common vetch is highly famed for its superior nutritional value which is of the essence in the diet of cows. It is also palatable to livestock. The palatability of common vetch can however pose a challenge in an agricultural venture. According to research, the plant is highly palatable to an extent that cows can over-feed on the plant. Since common vetch also contains some toxic compounds, excess feeding may lead to health related issues such as colic, gastric torsion, and in severe cases death. As such, although cows can eat vetch, it is advisable to ensure that proper rations are maintained.

What Animals Eat Vetch?

Cows can eat vetch including other animal species. Common vetch has less amount of toxins in comparison to hairy vetch and so can be tolerated by some animals. Ruminants such as goats and sheep can also eat vetch. It is said that goats provided with dietary plans consisting of vetch tend to perform better. Pigs can also feed on vetch though in limited quantities. Vetch can be included in their diet at up to about 41 to 65kg feed intake for growing pigs. Due to its high protein value, chickens can also feed on the plant but rations should not surpass approximately 50% unprocessed seeds. Studies conducted on the subject matter reveal that rations exceeding 60% can cause 100% mortality in broilers.