Egg quality enjoys many definitions, but one them encompasses ingredients in layer feeds that invoke rearing of hens in outdoors conditions. Such is the case with alfalfa meal that is associated with old methods of feeding non-ruminant animals. Although alfalfa meal has now been replaced by more efficient sources of protein, a concentrated low-fiber form can be still included in layer diets to promote a more "natural" egg quality concept.
A study published in Poultry Science was designed to determine the effects on laying performance and egg quality resulting from partial substitution of soybean meal (SBM) with low-fiber alfalfa meal (LFA; Medicago sativa L.) in the diet of early-phase laying hens. Brown layers, 18 weeks of age, were randomly allocated to two dietary treatments and fed for 10 week the experimental diets: a control diet, which contained SBM (15 percent of diet), and a test diet containing LFA (15 percent of diet) as the main protein source. Low-fiber alfalfa meal was obtained by a combination of sieving and air-classification processes. Feed intake was recorded daily, and egg production was calculated on a hen-day basis; eggs from each group were weekly collected to evaluate egg components and quality.
The partial substitution of SBM with LFA had no adverse effect on growth performance of early-phase laying hens. Egg production and egg quality traits examined were not influenced by dietary treatment, except for yolk color (P < 0.001), yolk percentage (P < 0.05), and yolk cholesterol and β-carotene contents (P < 0.001), which were improved in hens fed the LFA diet. Including LFA also increased serum β-carotene and reduced serum cholesterol concentrations (P < 0.001).
These results suggest that partially replacing normal SBM as protein source with low-fiber alfalfa meal in the laying-hen diet can improve egg quality without adversely affecting productive traits.