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Blue lupin (Lupinus angustifolius) forage


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Common names 

Blue lupin, blue lupine, European blue lupine, narrow leaf lupin, narrow leafed lupin, narrow leaved lupin, narrow-leaf lupin, narrowleaf lupin, narrowleaf lupine, narrow-leafed lupin, narrow-leaved blue lupin, narrow-leaved lupin, New Zealand blue lupin, sweet lupinseed [English]; lupin bleu, lupin à feuilles étroites, lupin petit bleu [French]; blaue Lupine, schmalblättrige Lupine [German]; lupino azzurro [Italian]; tremoçeiro-azul [Portuguese]; lupino azul, altramuz azul, lupino australiano [Spanish]; blålupin, fingerlupin [Swedish]

Feed categories 

Blue lupin (Lupinus angustifolius L.) is a legume crop used for seed and fodder. This species is the main lupin species used for forage. It is grazed green or as stubble or cut and made into hay or silage. Like other lupin species, blue lupin seeds are a potential alternative to soybeans. 


Lupinus angustifolius is a self-regenerating annual legume that reaches a height of (20-) 60-150 cm (Ecocrop, 2017). It is deeply taprooted, with roots reaching a depth of 2.5 m. The stems are robust and hairy, with profuse lateral branching, when sown at low density. The foliage is dark-green in colour. The leaves are digitate and the leaflets are narrower (hence the name "narrow-leaf lupin") than in white lupin Lupinus alba (Wolko et al., 2010; Wiley, 2009). The inflorescence is a terminal, 3-30 cm long, false raceme bearing many blue pea-like flowers. The pods are large and shatter readily once mature, making them difficult to direct harvest. Pods are susceptible to bud worm (Heliothis) damage when green. The seeds are hardcoated, and they can remain viable in the soil for up to 20 years. This means that it is almost impossible to eradicate blue lupins from a paddock. Seed weight is about 230 mg (Wiley, 2009). The flowers are usually blue in colour but some varieties have white flowers (Ecocrop, 2017).


In Australia, where lupins are the most important legume crop, blue lupins represent 91% of total lupin cultivation area (Pulse Australia, 2016). In that country, the bitter varieties that form blue flowers and have high alkaloid content are called "blue lupin". Those bitter cultivars are grown mainly for soil improvement and are used as green manure. Blue lupin stubbles are used for forage and silage, and for late winter and early spring grazing. The sweet varieties of Lupinus angustifolius with low alkaloid content are known as "narrow-leaf lupin". Their seeds are harvested and fed raw or ensiled to livestock. Their stubbles are used as forage or as pasture (during late winter or early spring). Blue lupin is a good source of honey (Ecocrop, 2017). 

Note on common names

Common names of Lupinus angustifolius differ depending on the country. The plant is either named "blue lupin" (though some varieties have white flowers, including sweet varieties suitable for forage), or a variant of "narrow-leaf lupin" (also "narrowleaf", "narrow-leafed", "narrow-leaved", with or without hyphen). This datasheet will use "blue lupin" since that name is more recognized internationally but many contemporary references, particularly in Australia and in anglophone countries, use variants of "narrow-leaf lupin" to name the sweet varieties of Lupinus angustifolius


Lupins are broadly distributed throughout the world. There are two geographically separated groups: New World species and Old Word species, among which 4 are cultivated, one from the New World and the 3 others from the Old World. All of them are smooth seeded. Lupins occupy almost all kinds of habitats from sea level to altitudes up to 4000 m (Wolko et al., 2010).

Lupinus angustifolius prefers light to medium textured, well-drained soils that are acid or neutral soils (Wolko et al., 2010). It does well on low to moderately fertile, well-drained, light or medium textured and mildly acidic to neutral sands and sandy loams (Wolko et al., 2010). Blue lupin does not withstand waterlogged soils but has tolerance of transient waterlogging (Wolko et al., 2010). Under conditions where P is limiting, lupins form specialized cluster root structures and/or release P-mobilizing carboxylates that free it from insoluble forms (Lambers et al., 2012). However, blue lupin is less effective than white and yellow lupins for P and Zn uptake (Wolko et al., 2010).

Statistics about lupin production are only about seed production and do not differentiate between species. The main producer of blue lupin forage is Australia but no information about forage production is available. 

Forage management 


In the UK, up to 20 t/ha DM were reported for blue lupin forage cultivated under irrigation during summer (Burtt et al., 1981). In Poland, fresh matter yield from 15.8 to 30.8 t/ha corresponding to 2.2 to 8.8 t DM/ha were reported (Faligowska et al., 2014). In Czech Republic, blue lupin yielded 3.8 t DM/ha in 2017 (Jancik et al., 2017).

Stubble yields were reported to be between 3.75 and 7.5 (-10) t/ha (Gladstones, 1970). Yields of 7 t DM/ha for stubbles, and 2 t DM/ha for seeds from the same crop have been reported (Graham Centre, 2011).


Fresh forage

Lupinus angustifolius has been used as a pasture species for a long time. In France, it was grazed by sheep in the early 19th century. Grazing occurred before flowering stage and could be done several times during the growing season. It was also used as green chop and could be cut during winter without losing its nutritive value (Koltz, 1864). In England, blue lupins were used as a sheep feed and for soil improvement in the late 1850s (Oldershaw, 1920). In Australia, sweet varieties of blue lupin have been recognized as a forage readily eaten by sheep at the end of the 19th century. It was used as a winter green feed or as fattening feedstuff during dry spells (Gardner et al., 1929). However, it was also considered as a weed in many parts of Australia and lupinosis outbreaks reduced its use as forage in the middle of the 20th century (Gladstones, 1969). Nowadays, in South Africa, grazing blue lupin is not recommended in the early growth stages, since there is little regrowth, and because of high concentrations of alkaloids in the young leaves and growth points. As the plant matures, more parts of the plant are eaten. For the best value as a grazing it is recommended that it be grazed at an advanced growth stage when most of the growth has taken place (Truter et al., 2015). In the USA, where blue lupin was first cultivated in the 1930s, it was grazed as a winter forage when feed was scarce (Glasscock et al., 1950).

Lupin stubbles

Blue lupin is a valuable grazing option for sheep after harvest of the seeds since it had higher value than cereal stubbles (Gladstones, 1970). It was reported that lupin seed harvest let approximately 150-400 kg seeds/ha on the ground and on stubbles. Lupin has the greatest value during the dry season, when sheep pick up the fallen seeds and graze the stubble (Truter et al., 2015). Lupin stubbles, provided they are not infested by fungi responsible for lupinosis, have a higher protein value than cereal stubbles (DPIRD, 2019). In South Africa, sheep could graze on dry lupin lands from November until late summer (February) rains allow regrowth (Flight, 1956). Mature plants of blue lupins as well as stubbles after seed harvest could also be grazed (Gladstones, 1970).

In New Zealand, a mixed pasture of lupins and cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) was sown and compared to alfalfa pasture. This mixed pasture had a production that was 70% of alfalfa but it could grow in areas unsuitable for alfalfa and could be grazed earlier than alfalfa (Hamill, 2015)

For a good stubble management the stocking rate should not be too high as overgrazing may expose the soil to rainfall and wind, and result in erosion (Graham Centre, 2011).

Lupin hay

Dry blue lupin forage could be pen-fed to livestock provided it was not moist. The bitterness of early varieties of blue lupin made it necessary to wait for livestock to get used to it (Koltz, 1864). Lupin plants cut after pod formation and left on swath to dry and make hay were adequately packed in rolls and bales to prevent lupinosis, providing good summer feed to sheep (Allen et al., 1978).

Lupin silage

It was possible to make silage from blue lupin. It was used by farmers in the 1950s in South Africa, where it was recommended to cut it at the young succulent stage, wilt it for 4 days, and add sugars in the form of molasses (3-4%). Because blue lupin could be limited in aminoacids it was also recommended to supplement it with grain or fish meal. Another option was to ensile blue lupin in association with maize or sorghum (Van Zyl, 1973; Van Zyl, 1967; Vosloo et al., 1963). In a more recent experiment in Poland, cutting narrow-leaf lupin at flat pod stage and wilting on the field during 24 hours was found to be effective in reducing fermentation losses and increasing DM content of silage from 20 to 35%. Flat pod stage was suitable because narrow-leaf lupin had higher sugar content and thus fermented better (Faligowska et al., 2014). The addition of lactic acid bacteria improved the quality of narrow-leaf lupin silage (Faligowska et al., 2014). In South Africa, lupin is also used for silage production: its high seed production combined with high green matter yield and high protein content provides a valuable carbohydrates for the silage making process (Truter et al., 2015).

Environmental impact 

N-fixing legume and sustainable P management

Lupins are N-fixing legumes that are reported to fix 300-400 kg N/ha, in Europe and Australia (Jansen, 2006). Lupins can provide benefit to the following crop (PGRO, 2014). Lupins are valuable legumes for sustainable P management. In soils depleted in available P, lupin plants form specialized cluster root structures and/or release P-mobilizing carboxylates that free it from insoluble forms (Lambers et al., 2012).

Soil improver and phytoremediation

Thanks to its deep taproot, the lupin plant improves soil texture and drainage. Lupins can be used for phytoremediation. Lupins may extend the phytoremediation period and increase the bioavailability of metals in polluted soils under recovery (Fumagalli et al., 2014). In mixed cultures of bioenergy crops, lupins (Lupinus albus and Lupinus angustifolius) have the ability to mobilize trace elements during and make these elements available for co-cultured species. Lupins mobilize trace elements by carboxylates and enzymes exudation and by lowering the pH value in the rhizosphere. In a comparison between white and blue lupin for trace element mobilization, blue lupin was less effective than white lupin (Hentschel et al., 2016).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Blue lupin, like most legumes, is relatively rich in protein (8.5-23.5% DM), though with a large variation depending on the stage of maturity. A trial in New Zealand found that a peak protein level of 28.8% DM was observed in the early stages of development (45 days) and this decreased as the plant matured to 12.8% at maturity (162 days). Protein content also depended on density: highest concentrations (> 23% DM) were found in the plants at the lower density (60 plants per m²) before grazing. Protein content at the later stages of grazing were under 11% DM on the last two days of the secondary flower and green pod grazed plants at the higher density (100 plants per m²), and on the last three days of these two grazing periods at the lower density (Burtt, 1981).

Potential constraints 


Bitter varieties of lupins (Lupinus spp.) contain toxic alkaloids and are not recommended for animal feeding. More recent sweet (alkaloid-free) varieties are palatable to stock.


Lupinosis outbreaks are susceptible to occur in sheep and cattle when lupin is fed as dried forage. Lupinosis is caused by to phomopsins, which are mycotoxins produced by fungal infestation of lupin plants by Diaporthe toxica (Jansen, 2006). These toxins cause severe damage to the liver, resulting in loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice and often death. Sheep are more sensitive to lupinosis than cattle (Clark, 2014Jansen, 2006). Lupinosis can be prevented by timely harvest and storage of forage or baling before rain falls (Allen et al., 1978).


Blue lupin can be used as forage for ruminants. It can be grazed either green or as stubble, and could also be used as silage or hay.


Digestibility values for blue lupin forage are scarce. In a trial in New Zealand, in vitro DM digestibility of lupin pasture grazed by sheep was about 60-65% between 40 and 125 days after sowing and dropped rapidly to less than 50% at day 162. Digestibility was highest at the pre-flower stage (> 75%) and decreased quickly over 3 days of grazing, down to 50%. In vivo DM digestibility of forage collected at green pod stage was about 75% (Burtt, 1981).


Green forage

Blue lupin can be grazed as green forage before flowering stage and at several times during the season of growth, but since there is little regrowth, it more recommended at advanced growth stage (Truter et al., 2015). Sheep graze mature blue lupin selectively: animals grazing a lupin pasture at green pod stage ate the pods in a single day as they preferred them to foliage. After 3 days most foliage had been eaten. The lambs seemed to find the stems unpalatable and a considerable amount of stems were left when the animals were removed (Burtt, 1981).

Lupin has good potential as a high quality summer forage crop for grazing of young lambs (Burtt, 1981). The green pod stage (where total available DM is the highest) is not the ideal stage to graze ; it may be prefered between the preflowering (where the nutrient density is the highest) and the primary flowering stages, were protein and energy values are sufficient to obtain a reasonable lamb growth rate. It would be particularly suitable in situations where grain crops are also grown, since the lupin can also be used in the rotation to restore soil fertility (Burtt et al., 1990b).

Compared with grazing annual pastures, a system where 26% of the area was planted with lupins and where animals grazed lupin stubble in summer and were fed lupin grain in late pregnancy and early lactation) had beneficial effects on reproduction results. Ewes lambing in March had heavier lambs that initially grew faster (same weights at weaning), and ewes lambing in June produced 16% more lambs due to a higher ovulation rate, fewer dry ewes and more twins (Arnold et al., 1976). Lupin feeding did not affect clean wool production (Arnold et al., 1978).

The great potential of sweet annual lupin as a source of green feed for grazing lambs has been oberved in regions with low summer temperatures (Iceland), with lamb growth rates reaching 450 g/d. Lupin can thus play a role in extending the period of rapid growth by grazing late into the autumn before slaughter (Guđmundsson et al., 1988). Lupin can been associated to cocksfoot in pasture. Cocksfoot-lupin produces forage of comparable quality to lucerne, and can also be grazed earlier in spring. Cocksfoot-lupin appears an alternative forage in areas unsuitable for lucerne (Hamill, 2015). 

Lupin stubble

After harvest of the seeds, blue lupin stubble can have a higher value than cereal stubble. Fallen lupin seeds that remains on the ground can reach 300-400kg per hectare. It makes lupin stubble an excellent feed for weaner sheep. Good body weight gain are obtained with stocking rates of 10 weaners/ha for up to two months if there are good levels of grain available. Higher stocking rates (20 weaners/ha) can be applied on a shorter period to allow stubble utilization early in summer before risks of storms. In contrast, when there is less than 50 kg/ha of lupin seeds in the stubble, sheep tend to lose weight and develop early signs of lupinosis. Water source should be available at proximity, to allow large paddocks to be grazed more evenly (DPIRD, 2019).


It is possible to make silage from blue lupin. Cutting at flat pod stage - where sugar and protein contents are high and favours fermentation process - and wilting on the field during 1-4 days makes it possible to ensile between 20 to 35% DM and preserve nutritive value (Truter et al., 2015; Faligowska et al., 2014). The fermentation process is improved by the addition of lactic acid bacteria (Faligowska et al., 2014).


Lupin can be conserved as hay in fodder rolls and bales, which reduces the risk of lupinosis compared to lupin stubble. No additional advantage was gained by spraying cut lupins with formalin before rolling or bailing (Allen et al., 1978). In vivo references on animal responses with blue lupin used as preserved forages are lacking.


Literature on the use of blue lupin forage for pigs is scarce. In Uganda, the association of blue lupin forage with other forage legumes (Triflorum decorum, Lablab purpureum, Desmodium uncinatum, Desmanthus virgatus, Trifolium tembense, Desmodium intortum, Vicia villosa and Stylosanthes hermata) has been suggested to provide forage to pigs on smallholders farms (Lukuyu et al., 2017).


Literature on the use of Lupinus angustifolius forage in rabbit feeding is scarce. In a study conducted in Portugal on 7 lupin cultivars - including 4 blue lupins - it was necessary to use a fence to protect the experiment against rabbits, which seems to indicate that fresh lupin foliage, including blue lupin foliage, is palatable for rabbits (Campos Andrada et al., 2008).

Dried blue lupin forage used as the main source of fibre in rabbit diets induced growth rate and feed efficiency close to those obtained with white lupin forage or alfalfa meal used as control (Harries et al., 1999). Thus, blue lupin forage can be a potential source of proteins and fibre but some additional experiments would be welcome before it can be recommendation without restrictions for rabbits feeding.

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 17.8 6 9.9 30.7 9  
Crude protein % DM 15.5 4.1 7.5 23.8 84  
Crude fibre % DM 32.5   17.3 34.8 3 *
Ether extract % DM 1.5 0.4 0.9 1.8 8  
Ash % DM 9.8 2.5 6.4 13.9 8  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 43.1 13.2 26.4 64.8 21  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 33.3 7.3 27.9 48.8 15 *
Lignin % DM 7.8         *
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.2         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 8.5 4.9 2.6 14.3 11  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 13.8 5.9 8.2 22.5 5  
Magnesium g/kg DM 3.3 1.8 1.6 6.4 11  
Potassium g/kg DM 19.7 2.9 16 26 11  
Sodium g/kg DM 2.62 0.75 1.9 3.8 5  
Manganese mg/kg DM 52 5 47 60 6  
Zinc mg/kg DM 38 4 33 43 6  
Iron mg/kg DM 75 4 69 80 6  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 11.1         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.8         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 61         *
OM digestibility, ruminants % 63.8         *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 7.9         *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 7.4         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 43.4         *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 66.6         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Burtt, 1981; Faligowska et al., 2014; Fraser et al., 2005; Guđmundsson et al., 1988; Jancik et al., 2017; Zamora Natera et al., 2017

Last updated on 18/07/2019 16:07:32

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Thiollet H., Tran G., Nozière P., Lebas F., 2019. Blue lupin (Lupinus angustifolius) forage. Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://feedipedia.org/node/24503 Last updated on July 18, 2019, 18:08