Selenium Connection Found To Boost Quality Of Alfalfa Feed

Oregon study reveals improvements in crop mineral use.

Published on: Jun 24, 2013

If you add some selenium to your fertilizer on alfalfa fields, the crop will take up the mineral to improve the feed quality for livestock, a new Oregon State University reveals.

Reporting in the journal "PLOS One," OSU College of Veterinary Medicine  lead author and researcher Jean Hall says that the results of the study are  important since selenium delivered via the plants in organic form is much safer than directly feeding the mineral in inorganic forms, such as salt.

"The process also lowers the cost for producers," says Hall. "There is a process using pure powder which we can explain to producers, but I need to remind them that it can be quite toxic if not done properly, and growers will need a boom sprayer to mix the material with water."

Cattle fed alfalfa produced with selenium gained weight in Oregon State University trials.
Cattle fed alfalfa produced with selenium gained weight in Oregon State University trials.

While it isn't going to be available until later this year, she and Polk County Extension Agent Gene Pirelli are working on a fact sheet explaining the process.

Until it is published, producers are invited to contact Hall at (541) 737-6532 or on line at, and Pirelli at (503) 931-5163 or online at for information regarding the process.

"I really wish more people were using the process," says Pirelli. "I know that it does take people in agriculture a long time to adopt new ideas, but this is one that really works and should be tried."

What Hall and her fellow scientists have done, says Pirelli, is to "finally prove some of the things researchers in the past thought was a good idea, but didn't actually study. Now, we have scientific information from out research that shows that their suspicions about selenium use are well grounded."

Those who want to give applied selenium a try need to be "talked through the process," notes Hall, since applications of too much of the mineral can harm animals.

Calves fed selenium-fortified alfalfa weighed up to 10% more than those fed alfalfa without the mineral, she adds, and weight growth increased  with additional selenium.

Also, she reports that animals on the selenium diet illustrated increased antibody production, hinting that the process boosts efficiency of vaccinations.

Oregon is the only state where you can artificially fertilize fields with selenium, and since most areas of the state are deficient in the mineral, this may be a strategy for ranchers to consider, Hall says.

Denmark and Finland require fertilization in fields to increase the amount of selenium in the food chain.