Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is one of the main forages grown in the world. Alfalfa is a winter hardy, drought tolerant, N-fixing legume with a good longevity, high yield, high nutrient levels, high digestibility, unique structural to non-structural components ratio, high dry matter intake, and high animal productivity per hectare. However, its main limitation is its excessively rapid initial rate of protein degradation in the rumen, which results in pasture bloat and inefficient use of protein with consequent excessive excretions of nitrogen into the environment. Proanthocyanidins are secondary plant metabolites that can bind with protein and thereby reduce the rate and extent of ruminal protein degradation. However, these secondary metabolites do not accumulate in alfalfa. This review aims to firstly describe the events involved in the rapid release of protein from alfalfa and its effect on ruminant nutrition, environmental pollution, and pasture bloat; secondly, to describe occurrence, structure, functions and benefits of moderate amounts of proanthocyanidin; and finally, to describe the development of alfalfa which accumulates moderate amounts of proanthocyanidins. The emphasis of this review focuses on the role of proanthocyanidins compounds in structure and nutrition interaction in ruminant livestock systems.
Keywords: alfalfa; molecular structure and nutrition interaction; proanthocyanidin.