Alfalfa Pellets vs. Alfalfa Hay vs. Alfalfa Sprouts

By Catherine E. Rigby-Burdette

Last revised November 1997

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is sometimes called lucerne. It's part of the legume family but most often recognized as a livestock feed. Any version of iguana salad ought to include mature alfalfa in some form. Alfalfa hay or pellets will do just fine, but you should never use alfalfa sprouts -- as compared to the mature alfalfa plant, they have very little in the way of nutrition. Mature alfalfa has a good Ca:P ratio and is made of up to 17% plant protein -- making it a convenient way to supply your iguana with sufficient protein without relying on animal-based protein sources.


Alfalfa Hay (Photo by C. Rigby)Alfalfa Hay Alfalfa hay is available in feed stores, pet stores, and discount stores such as Wal-mart or K-mart. They come in bales, mini-bales, or compressed into blocks. It is often sun-dried and has a hay-like appearance. We like using alfalfa in this form because it is easy to see when it has sat on the shelves a little too long -- it is no longer mostly green, but a dingy brown.

Alfalfa Pellets (Photo by C. Rigby)Alfalfa Pellets Alfalfa pellets are also known as rabbit pellets, guinea pig pelets, ferret pellets, chinchilla pellets, etc. They are also available in feed stores, pet stores, and discount stores such as Wal-mart or K-mart. These are two different brands mixed together, but overall, no matter how they are packaged or what brand they are sold under, they will always be small tube-shaped and grayish-brown to brown in color. Because of this it is difficult to tell how old they are. When shopping for these, you must make sure that alfalfa is the first listed ingredient, because formulas vary.

Alfalfa Sprouts Alfalfa Sprouts and other bean sprouts, while great in your own salad for variety, should not be included in iguana salads because they are one of those "empty" foods and are high in phosphorous. They are found in the produce section of most grocery stores. They are the "baby" plants and not as nutritious as the mature plant.



You can soak the pellets in an equal amount of water overnight. Really fresh pellets and some loosely compacted pellets will soak up all the water in a matter of a few minutes. Soaking in juices instead of water can change the flavor of the alfalfa and entice your iguana to eat it.


While you can soak pellets or hay in water or a little juice to soften it up overnight before adding it to the salad, we prefer grinding alfalfa hay to a powder in the blender. This way we can simply sprinkle it into the salad before serving without having to worry about overnight soaking.

Alfalfa Hay Powder (Photo by C. Rigby)Alfalfa hay, when ground needs to be sifted so that the harder "pokey" bits do not find their way into the salad. Finding a use for the remaining chaff is easy -- we give it to our breeder mice for litter/snacks, line our box turtle's home with it for him to dig in, or put it into my flower pots. The alfalfa powder is an attractive green and we find our picky iguanas are more likely to accept it in their salad than pellets. Herbal leaf powder is equally appealing looking but may be too fine a grind and clump.

Alfalfa Pellet Powder (Photo By C.Rigby)Alfalfa pellets, when ground, makes a lot of racket but if you tolerate the noise and grind several cups at once, this won't have to be repeated for a while! Some folks like using coffee bean grinders for grinding small quantities at a time. The ground powder needs no sifting, and it a easy to use brown powder. A mortar and pestle can be used with pellets. It is just as acceptable as hay, but the dingy color might put off picky iguanas from their food.

Other Forms.

Other forms of alfalfa are cubes, tea leaves, alfalfa meal, or herbal leaf powder. The cubes you'd have to soak or grind but the others are already usable. If you use tea, be sure to get a good quality tea withou stemmy or pokey pieces. The leaves ought to be coarse, but soft, not twiggy. If you use an herbal powder, do your best to locate a coarse grind or else you will have too fine a grind and it will clump. (You can use it, but to avoid clumping you'll have to spread the salad out flat on tin foil and dust it all over instead of just addig the whole amount and stirring it in.) Alfalfa meal is simply alfalfa powder before it is compressed into pellet shapes.


If your iguana won't eat his food with alfalfa check the following:

  • Is it stale? Get a fresh bag making sure the manufacture date on the bag is current if you suspect stale alfalfa being the culprit. Stale and fresh alfalfa smell the same -- strong!
  • Switch brands of alfalfa pellet. (Make sure "alfalfa" is the first listed ingredient.)
  • Switch to alfalfa hay, and crush the hay to a fine powder. Use powdered hay in recipe instead of pellets. Pellets have other ingredients beyond alfalfa. The iguana might be really rejecting this other ingredient and not the alfalfa itself.
  • Try using alfalfa tea, alfalfa meal, or herbal alfalfa leaf powder.

Use the Increased Alfalfa Conversion Method if the above does not solve the problem. Because alfalfa is very strong, and is an acquired taste, this conversion will take 6 weeks. At the end of 6 weeks, the iguana should accept 1/2 cup of alfalfa in every batch of MK Basic Salad Recipe. If he is still fussy, tough luck for him, because he is still going to get the 1/2 cup of alfalfa in his salad batch and no more of this foolishness! (Parenting is a tough job, but someone has to do it!)

      Week Number

      Alfalfa portion


      1/12 cup (or 1 Tblspn)


      1/6 cup (or 2 Tblspn)


      1/4 cup


      1/3 cup


      5/12 cup

      (or 1/3 cup + 1 Tblspn)


      1/2 cup

      Leave other ingredients in MK salad unchanged throughout conversion to normal alfalfa amount she prescribes in her basic salad recipe


If your iguana aboslutely cannot stand alfalfa, you still have two more options:

  • switch to blue-green algae
  • switch to using beans 2x a week or so to make up for the protein and leave the other day's salad beanless.

Blue-green algae contains a good amount of protein and can come in good Ca:P ratios. The problem is locating it. You might have to go to specialty stores or mail order.

Cooked dried beans of any kind (pinto, lima, kidney, letils, navy, etc.) that have been lightly mashed to break the "skins" so the iguana can digest them more easily can be mixed into the salad a few times a week. The other days simply leave them out. The good thing is that beans are available anywhere. The bad thing is that beans are rich in phosphorous and you will need to try to pair the beans with other calcium rich ingredients to offset it. Just use caution and remeber your supplement!

"Alfalfa Pellets vs. Alfalfa Hay vs. Alfalfa Sprouts"

Copyright 1997 Catherine E. Rigby-Burdette

All rights reserved.

Comments or suggestions always welcome!