Alfalfa Hay For Horses

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Alfalfa Hay For Horses

Alfalfa Hay For Horses

Alfalfa hay has long been known as a great supplement and feed source for horses and horse owners.  In general alfalfa has more protein in it than other grass hays.  You can add it to a grass hay and get a mixture and increase the amount of protein that your horse is getting.  The same is said about alfalfa pellets. 

Alfalfa hay is grown usually with other types of grass hay, but alfalfa hay can also be grown 100% on it's own.  Usually here in Canada you can get up to 3 cuts a year of alfalfa hay, it grows pretty fast.  The cut of alfalfa hay that you get will be different and it is good for horse owners to know what is what

What is the Difference Between Cuts?

First cut is generally straight ahead what you would expect in the nutrient value of alfalfa or if it is mixed with other grasses.  It is good quality forage for horses. 

Typically the mix will be heavier grass.  The alfalfa hay will be lower. 

Second cut has more alfalfa hay if it is a mix, and usually a little sweeter and heavier protein.  Second cut is also known as a grass hay with higher amounts of alfalfa hay in it.  

Third cut will be softer and more leafy, and the grass mix will be low.  The alfalfa grows faster so in late summer early fall you won't get much grow back of grass a third time, but you might get some alfalfa.  It will be higher in protein and fat but lower in fibre.   

Third cut alfalfa hay is considered hot, meaning the horses will eat it like candy.  It doesn't have much grass hay in it.   

Alfalfa Pellets For Horses

Although hay is the best source of protein by weight, you can supplement your horses protein input by giving them additional alfalfa in pellet or cube format.  The solution however isn't always about giving them more protein but giving them better protein.  

Alfalfa pellets for horses usually come in fifty-pound bags and can be found at almost any feed store. When fed in conjunction with alfalfa cubes and beet pulp they are more beneficial. If you feed them with a long-stem fiber source, the pellets can replace calories lost when hay is unavailable or scarce.

Performance horses often benefit from Alfalfa pellets because it is more difficult to find quality hay while travelling.  

Alfalfa Supplements For Horses

There are a whole number of supplements on the market that contain alfalfa, and it gives a boost to the supplement.  Here is a breakdown of what is in alfalfa from a health perspective.  

For example, 1 cup (33 grams) of alfalfa sprouts contains a mere 8 calories. It also contains the following (2):

  • Vitamin K: 13% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin C: 5% of the RDI.
  • Copper: 3% of the RDI.
  • Manganese: 3% of the RDI.
  • Folate: 3% of the RDI.
  • Thiamin: 2% of the RDI.
  • Riboflavin: 2% of the RDI.
  • Magnesium: 2% of the RDI.
  • Iron: 2% of the RDI.

A cup also contains 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of carbs, which comes from fiber.

Performance horses often benefit from these types of supplements because they are in a stall a lot and travelling a lot.  

First Place Feeds Alternative Supplements

1.  Pro-Enz Probiotic

First Place Feeds ‘PRO-ENZ 3’ was designed as a complete supplement including prebiotics, probiotics and digestive enzymes.

Probiotics are essential for:

- The young and growing foal, creating a healthy intestinal environment early on in life.

- Aiding recovery from sickness or infection.

- Helps to reintroduce healthy bacteria after medication and antibiotic use.

- Buffer the digestive tract in times of stress, dietary changes, travel or during competition.

- Reduce digestive upset in horses experiencing diarrhea and colic.

The Advantages

 Prebiotic – Yeast extract is used to feed the microbes and the healthy bacteria in the horses’ hind gut. This allows greater absorption of the probiotic and better feed digestibility in the digestive tract.

 


 

Story by Eleanor Kellon, VMD

It isn't a "perfect" food, but alfalfa can be a good staple in the horse's diet. There are a few caveats, but the key here is balance.

For equine seniors, pelleted alfalfa may be easier to chew and provide more nutritional value than an equivalent amount of grass hay. Few things create more arguments and opinions when it comes to feeding horses than whether alfalfa should be a part of the equine diet. Some say there's nothing better. Others view it as a kind of poison. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between.

Let's look at the pros and cons of alfalfa, and explore some of the myths.

Some Advantages Horses love it! No argument there. Give a horse the opportunity to choose among flakes of all-grass hay, grass-alfalfa mix, and all-alfalfa, chances are he will chow down the alfalfa flake first. Alfalfa is tasty to horses.

Alfalfa has lower indigestible fiber than grass hays. High quality ("dairy") alfalfa supplies 20% to 25% more calories per pound than grass hays, although the difference is much smaller for more mature cuts of alfalfa. Heavily pregnant or lactating mares, and young rapidly growing horses, benefit from alfalfa's high protein content. Alfalfa is also a rich source of calcium. Cubed and pelleted alfalfa tends to be very high quality. It is harvested before it becomes too mature so that the cubes and pellets hold together well. The major quality issue to be concerned with is overheating during processing, which will damage the protein. Pellets and cubes should be green, not brown or black on the outside.

Alfalfa Myths vs. Facts

Myth: The high protein in alfalfa causes osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), a joint disease of young horses.

Fact: High protein does not cause OCD. Rather, low protein is a risk factor for OCD. What's true, though, is that the very unbalanced mineral profile in alfalfa could contribute to OCD.

Myth: The high calcium in alfalfa can prevent OCD and other bone problems in developing horses.

Fact: Calcium is important to developing bone, but so is phosphorus, magnesium, protein, and the trace minerals. Adequate mineral levels, in correct proportions, is the key.

Myth: Alfalfa's high protein causes kidney problems.

Fact: High protein is not harmful to the kidneys. However, extra protein is metabolized to ammonia, which must be excreted by the kidneys. To handle this extra demand, the horse will drink more water and make more urine.

Myth: Alfalfa's high protein makes a horse "hot."

Fact: For reasons that really aren't clear, some horses are more energetic when being fed alfalfa--but it isn't the protein.

Myth: Alfalfa causes heaves or allergies.

Fact: Alfalfa is no more likely to cause an allergic reaction than any other type of hay. Molds growing in the bales can cause respiratory tract symptoms, but the same molds can--and do--grow in any type of hay.

Myth: Alfalfa cannot be fed to HYPP horses because of the high potassium.

Fact: Grass hays can be high in potassium too. In fact, depending on when they were cut, they could be even higher. The Downside Insulin-resistant horses prone to laminitis may be sensitive to alfalfa. The cause isn't entirely clear, but it may be related to alfalfa having more sugar in the form of glucose, and higher starch.

The high calcium content of alfalfa causes an imbalanced calcium/phosphorus ratio if not corrected by other feeds or supplements. Most adult horses seem to tolerate this, but it's not ideal for pregnant mares and growing horses. The high calcium also causes hormonal shifts that make it difficult for the horse to rapidly mobilize calcium from bone stores in times of need. This can cause "thumps" or muscular problems in horses working hard, or weakness and muscular problems in mares when they first start to produce milk.

Due to alfalfa's high protein content, excess protein will be burned as a fuel and the waste is eliminated in the urine as urea, which is converted to ammonia. Horses will drink more, leading to wetter and smellier stalls.

Alfalfa can be trickier to cure and bale than grass hays. It needs a low enough moisture level so that it doesn't mold, without being put up so dry that all its leaves shatter and fall off. Grazing on an alfalfa pasture requires the same precautions as feeding alfalfa hay, plus some additional considerations. For example, digestive upsets may be an even bigger problem, especially in the spring and fall when wide temperature swings can lead to rapid changes in the composition of the plant. And unlimited access to such a highly palatable food as alfalfa may lead to significant weight gain. Having an alfalfa-grass mixed pasture may not help much because there's a good chance that the horses will seek out and eat the alfalfa first, exclusively.

Alfalfa is prone to have more "fines" (broken, crumbled leaves that fall out when you open the bale). Since this is where the bulk of the nutrition is, this can be a considerable loss. Try putting your alfalfa bale on an empty feed bag before you open the bale, and feed the small pieces that fall out in the feed trough or bucket. For the horse who might have some respiratory sensitivities, fines can be mixed into a meal or wet down slightly, but, in general, the particles are much too large to actually be inhaled into the lungs.

High-alfalfa/low-grain diets have been linked to the formation of enteroliths ("stones") in the intestinal tract, which can cause colic and may need to be surgically removed. Not the Perfect Food, but …

In summary, while alfalfa isn't a complete, "whole" food for horses, it doesn't have to be avoided either-if you make it a point to balance your horse's diet so he's getting everything he needs in the right amounts. There are many horses who need extra calcium or protein in their diets, and alfalfa is an excellent natural source of those nutrients. Because of its taste appeal, higher digestibility, and the fact it is easier to chew, it is often a valuable addition to the diet of sick horses or senior horses. There are many areas of the country where alfalfa is more readily available than grass hays and very reasonably priced. If you use alfalfa as your sole hay type, just be sure to get advice from a nutrition professional on how to properly balance your feeding program.

 

FAQ

What do Alfalfa Cubes Do For Horses?

Some horses have a hard time digesting hay, or they can also have issues if the hay is especially dusty or has some mould.  Good quality hay isn't always available. 

Alfalfa is more like a legume and less like a grass and grows faster than grass.  It also grows lower to the ground, so the swather and bailer are set lower.  This will typically induce more dust into the hay that is made.  

These types of horse can eat alfalfa cubes.  Sometimes they are straight up but most times they are soaked to make the food more digestible and easier for the horse to eat.  

It also adds protein in the diet for certain horses that work a lot or need the extra protein.  

The cubes are basically made from alfalfa hay, so it is exactly the same as alfalfa hay but just in an easy format.   

Cubes can also be used for growing horses, or young horses for additional protein.