Alfalfa is one of the most popular hay crops in the world. It produces many stems from each root and stalk, giving the plants a bushy appearance. The stems produce many leaflets, and each leaflet consists of three dark green oval leaves. Alfalfa flowers are a cluster of many very small tightly packed flowers, typically a shade of purple. Alfalfa is usually harvested right before or right after the plants start to flower. Because alfalfa grows quickly, it can be cut and harvested multiple times during the summer. Most alfalfa in Central Montana is irrigated, but there are sometimes stands of dryland alfalfa as well.


One of the most popular livestock feeds, alfalfa can be used as hay or silage to feed cattle, horses, sheep, etc. To make hay, the plant is left in windrows to dry after it is cut. A few days after cutting, the farmer gathers the hay (usually in bales) and stores it for feed during the winter. For silage, the farmer gathers the cut hay immediately and stores it in an airtight container (often huge bags, silos, or piles wrapped in plastic). Silage ferments slightly, which preserves it through the winter and introduces healthy gut bacteria into the livestock’s diet.

Central Montana Alfalfa

Scientific Name

Medicago sativa

Growing Season

Long-term perennial, usually lasts 4-5 years. Multiple harvests each summer, either late bud or early bloom.


182,000 tons in Cascade, Chouteau and Judith Basin Counties. 3.96 million tons in all of Montana.