View Full Version : Alfalfa and Foundered Horses Question

Mar. 26, 2010, 12:26 PM
This was taken from another thread on Horse Care. There was no further clarification so I am starting a new thread to see if anyone has any comments on this. I thought alfafa was one of the safest because of the low NSC?

Be aware also that alfalfa contains a mineral (forget what) that can make many horses' feet sore, esp. foundered ones.

Mar. 26, 2010, 12:36 PM
Sounds like whoever said it was fairly clueless and didn't even know what they were talking about, so I'd take the statement with a large grain of salt.

How credible is a statement that warns us to beware of "something", when the one doing the warning doesn't even know what it is? :rolleyes:

Mar. 26, 2010, 01:06 PM
One can make statements like that and have them be accurate while forgetting a name :) I happen to know there is at least one study that shows high-sugar meals cause the release, in too-large quantities, of a hormone whose name starts with L, but I can never remember that name. That hormone signals "I'm full", and is one reason why some horses who eat high-sugar diets don't gain weight - they don't eat enough forage because their brain says "stop eating".

However, at least I know it was a study which can then be looked up if necessary :)

According to safergrass:

Because really high quality alfalfa in the SW of the US can average up to 25% protein, which can be utilized as energy when in such excess, and up to 20% NSC, this type of forage is totally inappropriate for any horse prone to laminitis, unless fed in small quantities.
So again, it seems to be related to the NSC level as opposed to some particular mineral or something of that nature.

I wouldn't go so far as to say "fairly clueless" as obviously alfalfa is not guaranteed safe for metabolic horses. The issue is the details ;)

Mar. 26, 2010, 02:32 PM
Due to an experience with a HORRIBLE pet sitter when I left I had 4 sound healthy horses and returned to 3 very sick horses. I have 3 foundered and IR and one with Cushings horses. They get grass hay with a tad of alfalfa more for flavor and tiny bit of Safechoice grain more to get the meds down. Even though they have so many problems they are doing pretty well. I wouldn't feed straight alfalfa with a horse prone to any of the problems my horses have.

Mar. 26, 2010, 02:36 PM
I think that's leptin, JB. :)

By "fairly clueless" I meant a poster making the general statement that "there's something bad about alfalfa, but I don't know what it is", not that someone said alfalfa might or might not be detrimental to certain animals.

And you'll probably never hear me using statements like "guaranteed safe". :) If phrases like that form in my language cortex, I get an electrical shock via my medicolegal implant. :lol:

Mar. 26, 2010, 02:44 PM
Yes, that's it! :lol:

Mar. 26, 2010, 05:51 PM
Generally speaking, I think alfalfa does have a relatively low NSC. I've read somewhere that there's a significant difference (NSC) in alfalfa grown in the UK (often cloudy) and alfalfa grown in SW USA (sunny). But generally...it's lower.

I'm by no means a nutrition expert but this article really cleared up some nutritional questions surrounding laminitis for me:


I also recall reading an article on rehabilitating laminitis and it made the point that during the recovery process it is important to be sensitive to nutritional requirements, specifically protein as the body is trying to repair damage, and mentioned alfalfa or soy as possible sources, I think used more as supplements than diet base.

Patty Stiller
Mar. 26, 2010, 09:08 PM
Also (and Katy Watts from Safergrass can help me with this if I am wrong) alfalfa tends to be very high in calcium. Which may be the mineral the other poster was referring to.
Excess calcium in the diet *may* interfere with the absorption/utilization of magnesium.
Low magnesium levels have been implicated in some aspects of IR. , and magnesium is a vital component in the control of blood sugars, thyroid levels and muscle control.
Many (probably most) IR horses benefit from added dietary magnesium . Therefore excess calcium MAY be a factor. But please don't beat me to a pulp if there is research to the contrary that I am unaware of. . :)

Mar. 27, 2010, 12:06 AM
I'm no expert, but I do know a bit about alfalfa since I live in the desert and it's the most affordable feed here by far. What I was told by my vet (and my research backs up) is a combination of high NSC in the high quality stuff, and possibly the problems Patty mentioned with high calcium levels.

Since I honestly can't afford to feed straight grass in large enough quantities to keep weight on my horses (and I can't find a good supplier!) what my vet and I worked out for my Cushings horse was to purchase lower quality alfalfa and provide a supplement to balance the calcium/magnesium ratio. It's been working well for him. Of course that's just an anecdote and far from scientific. ;)

I don't know for sure how it will affect foundered horses, but in general feeding a foundered horse as if they are IR is a good idea.

Mar. 27, 2010, 08:23 AM
Excess calcium in the diet *may* interfere with the absorption/utilization of magnesium.

I'm nutrition knowledge challenged so I'm really trying to get a better understanding.....

I'm aware of the concern with the calcium/phosphorus ratio, especially when feeding alfalfa...

Can anyone expound on calcium interfering with magnesium absorption and at what levels?

Katy Watts
Mar. 27, 2010, 08:59 AM
Can anyone expound on calcium interfering with magnesium absorption and at what levels?

There is no science conducted in horses to validate this concern. It is an interesting theory. I recommended feeding some extra magnesium to see if it helps. I use Quiessence, which has both magnesium and chromium, although I cannot say which helps more. It seems to help keep the fat pads on IR horses soft. In the western half of the US alfalfa can have really high Ca. Not so in the east, especially if fields are not limed adequately.

There are other theories around as to why some lots of alfalfa may trigger problems in EMS horses, including genistien, phytoalexins, excess amino acids triggering insulin production, or excess protein being metabolized as energy. I think some may be allergic, but again this is just theory piled on top of theory.
I have seen and heard of a few laminitic horses that get sore feet from eating even small amounts of alfalfa. Many others, including my own, seem to do just fine eating limited amounts of alfalfa. Chris Pollitt and Rick Redden have even recommended straight alfalfa for laminitic horses, although I don't know their current stand.
Lots we don't know. Your horse tell you what works if you pay proper attention.

Daydream Believer
Mar. 27, 2010, 09:38 AM
What I was taught in Dr. Kellon's course was to keep Calcium and Magesium in a 2:1 ratio particular for IR susceptible horses. I have a number of those and have been feeding alfalfa pellets for a year and half now with no issues at all. I had way more trouble with soy with my horses than alfalfa. I've also fed alfalfa to laminitic horses and they did fine.

Keep in mind also that alfalfa is a common ingredient in many of the senior and low starch feeds.

Mar. 27, 2010, 10:20 AM
I'm nutrition knowledge challenged so I'm really trying to get a better understanding.....

I'm aware of the concern with the calcium/phosphorus ratio, especially when feeding alfalfa...

Can anyone expound on calcium interfering with magnesium absorption and at what levels?

Just like there is an optimal ratio of ca to phos, there is a similar ratio of ca:mg, of cu:zn, and of many other minerals to other minerals. It's a many:many relationship.

It's not just about ratios though, it's also about having enough of things. For example, adult horses can handle the 6:1 ratio of many alfalfa batches *as long as* there is enough phosphorous in the diet. But a 4:1 ratio could be a problem of there isn't enough phos.

I do think the ca:mg ratio is roughly 2:1 like it is for ca/phos, with the healthy horses able to tolerate discrepancies *as long as* there is enough of each.

Mar. 27, 2010, 10:55 AM
Very informative! Thanks all for pointing out that more ratios are important than just calcium phosphorus. I suppose I knew that but just wasn't thinking beyond calcium to phosphorus in regards to alfalfa. I've got some more reading to do and then I probably should start my own thread with my additional questions......

:) like,
if the theory is excess calcium interfers with the mechanicsm of absorption/metabolism of magnesium...would supplements even help/i.e. once the mechanism is compromised does concentration even matter? I understand it's just a theory.

I also like Quiessence. I've recently been using a supplement called Laminex ( http://www.smartpakequine.com/productclass.aspx? )just because it covered more bases and would welcome some opinions on it. I did stop Quiessence to avoid over-supplementing.

Sorry OP...I hope my questions have been beneficial to you. I didn't mean to take it somewhere you didn't intend to go. I should take it to a new thread but didn't want to lose the current context.

Auventera Two
Mar. 27, 2010, 12:34 PM
My two IR horses (one is foundered/cushings) do fine on 3rd crop premium alfalfa which is mostly leaves. Each of them are eating about 5 to 6 lbs. of it a day and the remainder of their intake is a straight grass hay. The QH mare used to have problems eating alfalfa - even a pound of it would make her sore, but I haven't seen that issue in a long time. She is now a whole lot more "stable" than she used to be and doesn't have nearly the issues that she did a couple years ago. If I have trouble getting beet pulp, I use alfalfa pellets in the interim and don't have any problems there either.

I think some horses are so metabolically unstable that they can't handle much of anything without having a problem.

I saw moderate improvement with magnesium/chromium supplementation but have found SmartControl IR to be superior to the other products available. I started my girls on APF and I'll see how that goes for them too.

But what I think helps as much as anything is getting the hooves right. Tall heels are a disaster and unfortunately, so many chronically foundered horses live with high, contracted heels. I believe (no science to back this up so take it for what its worth) that when the palmar angle is at about +2 degrees, the horse can handle a whole lot more fluctuation in diet. When the bone is rotated up on the tip from high heels and bars, any little insult in the diet tips them right over the edge. Of all the foundered horses I trim, once I get the heels and bars low, the horses improve significantly and can even start handling grazing again in most cases. I'm not interested in fighting over this, so if you don't believe it, fine. It's just my personal observation and I'm not declaring any sort of expertise on this.

Patty Stiller
Mar. 27, 2010, 02:48 PM
What triggered my thoughts on the Ca Mg thing initially was this little excerpt from a little book "Beyond the Hay Days" Author Rex A Ewing, 1997.
" Magnesium in the feed is absorbed at a rate of 40%-60% .Inorganic forms of magnesium such as magnesium sulfate and magnesium oxide are generally about 70% absorbed by the horse. However, several factors can limit magnesium absorption,including high levels of calcium or phosphorus in the diet; an excess of vitamin D, diuretics such as lasix, and a lack of dietary protein. Most of the horses respond to the introduction of supplemental magnesium to the feed in the form of magnesium oxide or magnesium sulfate."

Also, from somewhere I remember reading that the reason for the cometition in absorbtion is that Ca and Mg need the same amino acids in order to be absorbed, so if one mineral is too high it prevents the absorbtion of the other.
I will try to find that reference and post it. It might take a while though..if you saw the state of my office you would understand:lol:...

Mar. 27, 2010, 03:18 PM
several factors can limit magnesium absorption,including high levels of calcium or phosphorus in the diet; an excess of vitamin D, diuretics such as lasix

Probably not relevant, but lasix doesn't deplete magnesium by interfering with or limiting absorption, but rather by just making the kidneys dump it.

Love that book, though. :yes: