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Free Choice alfalfa?

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  • Free Choice alfalfa?

    My BO only feeds free Choice straight alfalfa. I personally do not want my own horse on free choice due to mineral imbalances, she's also an Arabian. My BO does not seem to worried about the possible risks. She's currently on free choice alfalfa at the home of the woman I got her from, she doesn't arrive here until Saturday. She doesn't look bad at all, but I can't be sure that it won't cause problems in the future. What are your thoughts on this? If I decide to switch her to a grass hay it will not be included in my monthly board and I will have to buy it separately because the barn owner only provides alfalfa hay.

  • #2
    really depends on how much work your horse is doing and whether it affects her.

    If the horse is currently on alfalfa and that is the common practice in your area, it is perhaps not a problem.

    What mineral balances are you worried about? What other feed, like vitamin and mineral supplement, are you feeding?

    Also if you don't want your horse fed alfalfa why are you bringing her to a barn that only feeds alfalfa? Perhaps you just need to find another barn rather than have your barn manager totally change their management. Buying grass hay for the horse will be probably about $200 a month extra, and are you expected to store it and feed it yourself? Sounds like an expensive PITA.

    My suggestions would be:

    1. Find a barn that feeds what you want

    2. or go with the alfalfa and feed a supplement to correct whatever it is you think is wrong with alfalfa.

    Comment


    • #3
      I'd be pealing my 4,000lb arabians off the ceiling if they had free choice straight alfalfa. I ration alfalfa/grass mix hay and they are still fat.
      http://weanieeventer.blogspot.com/

      Comment


      • #4
        I know in certain parts of the country, Alfalfa is the local hay of choice. Its fed like we would feed local Timothy or Orchard Grass here in Middle TN.

        While it is true that certain horses shouldn't have an all-alfalfa diet, that is usually due to:

        A) Weight (as in, the horse needs reduced calories or reduced protein and Alfalfa would make them gain weight)
        B) Allergies (the horse can't tolerate Alfalfa)
        C) Taste (the horse won't eat Alfalfa - not every horse likes it)
        D) Other (Alfalfa winds the horse up and makes them skiddish or too high energy or has other negative effects)

        So I think it depends on what the problems are that you think the horse will have staying on Alfalfa hay? Did you have a vet pull blood, and there were concerns about this horse staying on Alfalfa due to the results?

        I feed alfalfa pellets year round to my three (all different breeds and sizes). It's a staple in their diet. In winter, I also supplement their Bermuda Hay with a bagged alfalfa (either compressed or chopped) for additional protein and calories. We do not have pretty alfalfa hay grown locally (at least not that I've seen). We do have a place 1.5 hours from me that imports it from out west (Montana I think). Its lovely, but also $16 a 50# bale!
        ~~ How do you catch a loose horse? Make a noise like a carrot! - British Cavalry joke ~~

        Comment

        • Original Poster

          #5
          Originally posted by Scribbler View Post
          really depends on how much work your horse is doing and whether it affects her.

          If the horse is currently on alfalfa and that is the common practice in your area, it is perhaps not a problem.

          What mineral balances are you worried about? What other feed, like vitamin and mineral supplement, are you feeding?

          Also if you don't want your horse fed alfalfa why are you bringing her to a barn that only feeds alfalfa? Perhaps you just need to find another barn rather than have your barn manager totally change their management. Buying grass hay for the horse will be probably about $200 a month extra, and are you expected to store it and feed it yourself? Sounds like an expensive PITA.

          My suggestions would be:

          1. Find a barn that feeds what you want

          2. or go with the alfalfa and feed a supplement to correct whatever it is you think is wrong with alfalfa.
          I had been keeping my other gelding here for about a year, he's a harder keeper and does fine on the alfalfa but the Arabian is not so hard to keep. I was told that the alfalfa has very high amounts of calcium and phosphorus that can cause problems with the PH of the gut and that it's not a good idea to feed free choice but I'm not super familiar with alfalfa itself. The most complaint I've heard in my area is that feeding it free choice makes their horses hot, but I've never experienced it myself.

          Comment


          • #6
            You can get mineral supplements to counter balance the calcium in the alfalfa.

            Comment


            • #7
              I wouldn't worry about the alfalfa from a behavioral or nutritional point of view. If problems develop, deal with them, but you may never have any issues.

              What would concern me is the development of enteroliths, a problem which affects Arabian horses more than other breeds.
              https://ker.com/equinews/enteroliths-in-horses/


              "Random capitAlization really Makes my day." -- AndNirina

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Scribbler View Post
                You can get mineral supplements to counter balance the calcium in the alfalfa.
                Except that you don't need to on adult, mature horses.

                They just excrete the excess calcium (and protein, alfalfa has more than they need also) just fine, no problems as long as other minerals and vitamins are ok.

                Only growing horses will have skeletal problems if the calcium/phosphorus is not balanced properly as they grow.

                Our horses are only on alfalfa and the 21 year old has been on that forever now, as he is on dry lot.
                Now, he is an easy keeper, so definitely NOT on free choice alfalfa, he would balloon and founder.

                Many ranch horses here in hard use are on dry-lots while working and have free choice alfalfa there and do great, look fine and work well.

                If that is how your mare has been managed and is ok, why not see how she does under same management with you?
                IF you have a problem, then you of course will have to change to whatever else works best for her.

                Alfalfa is one of the better complete horse feeds out there, but is not without it's concerns also.
                As mentioned, for younger stock, below two, you do want to be sure you are balancing minerals properly.
                Alfalfa can mold easier than other hay types, so always watch what you are feeding and discard, don't feed but clean, nice hay.
                There is the rare horse that gets photosynthesis problems on alfalfa and may slough white skin.
                Also rare, some horses are allergic to alfalfa and get hives, better not feed them any.
                Alfalfa is high in protein, which horses like, using only what they need, the rest is eliminated, but also makes alfalfa pricier, the higher protein and so quality it has and that waste is hard on your pocket.
                Our vet calls it expensive urine.

                A friend had two 30+ old geldings and had kept them for many years on free choice alfalfa.
                Only starting to supplement with senior feed as they hit 30 and their teeth were not as good any more for eating hay.
                They always looked fabulous, like 15 year olds.

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Now worried about enteroliths, what minerals would she need to balance it out? I could give the vet a call tomorrow and ask her opinion. A lot of studies say that horses who suffered from the stones were fed a high concentration of alfalfa, but it could also have to do with the soil and water quality of the area couldn't it?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Pinto.powerhouse View Post
                    Now worried about enteroliths, what minerals would she need to balance it out? I could give the vet a call tomorrow and ask her opinion. A lot of studies say that horses who suffered from the stones were fed a high concentration of alfalfa, but it could also have to do with the soil and water quality of the area couldn't it?
                    Absolutely. Whenever you read a relationship study it is important to know that it is not a confirmed cause and effect. It is is a starting point to make an educated hypothesis which may or may not turn out to be true. And there can be combinations of factors which are the cause. As the article points out, the benign treatment of feeding vinegar may prevent enteroliths, but it is not a tested or proven preventative.

                    Also, before you get too freaked out, investigate the incidence. It may actually be a fairly low percentage of horses who get them.
                    "Random capitAlization really Makes my day." -- AndNirina

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Pinto.powerhouse View Post

                      I had been keeping my other gelding here for about a year, he's a harder keeper and does fine on the alfalfa but the Arabian is not so hard to keep. I was told that the alfalfa has very high amounts of calcium and phosphorus that can cause problems with the PH of the gut and that it's not a good idea to feed free choice but I'm not super familiar with alfalfa itself. The most complaint I've heard in my area is that feeding it free choice makes their horses hot, but I've never experienced it myself.
                      Your current horse is already on a free choice alfalfa diet, your new horse is currently on a free choice alfalfa diet and both are doing just fine? I would get a balancer for all alfalfa diets and not change a thing, especially if you have to buy grass hay yourself.

                      You can always change the diet later if it isn't working. I would be more worried if the new horse wasn't already on alfalfa hay.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        There's a huge difference between 100% alfalfa, and what most people are talking about, a grass/alfalfa mix. Straight alfalfa is expensive, rich, and can make a horse very hot. Varying types of mixes are better.
                        http://weanieeventer.blogspot.com/

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Pinto.powerhouse View Post
                          Now worried about enteroliths, what minerals would she need to balance it out? I could give the vet a call tomorrow and ask her opinion. A lot of studies say that horses who suffered from the stones were fed a high concentration of alfalfa, but it could also have to do with the soil and water quality of the area couldn't it?
                          Also, anecdotally, may be related to eating alfalfa directly off sandy ground whether fed on the ground or dropped out a a feeder or net.

                          In some one parts of the country mixes are rare and hard to find but OP doesn’t need to start here by assuming there will be any problems if that’s what her current horse and this kind of new horse have been eating without issue for some time.

                          Also, boarding barns in general are reluctant to provide different feed or provide storage and feed owner provided feeds. It’s their business and they set it up as suits them and their staff limitations and operating budget best. Wait and see.
                          When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                          The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by PeteyPie View Post
                            I wouldn't worry about the alfalfa from a behavioral or nutritional point of view. If problems develop, deal with them, but you may never have any issues.

                            What would concern me is the development of enteroliths, a problem which affects Arabian horses more than other breeds.
                            https://ker.com/equinews/enteroliths-in-horses/

                            Yes, it's something to consider as a risk that isn't trivial. But there is more to it than just "straight alfalfa", such as the soil and the quality of the alfalfa

                            Contrary to popular belief, it's not the high Ca which contributes to the stones, it's the high protein. Excessive protein can create excess ammonium magnesium phosphate. Combine that with alf that's closer to "dairy quality", which is a lot more leaf and a lot less stem, therefore less beneficial fiber, and you're creating a great recipe for stones.

                            Originally posted by Bluey View Post

                            Except that you don't need to on adult, mature horses.

                            They just excrete the excess calcium (and protein, alfalfa has more than they need also) just fine, no problems as long as other minerals and vitamins are ok.
                            But you really should add at least some phosphorous. No, the high ca/phos ratio isn't nearly the problem with adults as it is growing horses, but if you're into the 5-6:1 range, that's still not that great for adults, and it would be in their best interest to add some phos to at least bring things closer to 3:1 or so.

                            Too much Ca can lead to electrolyte imbalances and cause Thumps if the horse is working hard enough (which doesn't have to be terribly hard).

                            Alfalfa also generates more heat when being digested, which can make it problematic for some horses living in hot areas, and is a big reason why Endurance riders won't feed a lot of it - they definitely don't want to be generating more heat while training and competing. 7-8lb can raise the internal core temp by 1/2* or so, and that effect lasts for about 6 hours.

                            Does straight alf work for some horses? Of course, 1000s and 1000s have lived long lives on it, where it's the only affordable hay. just don't discount the issues that can arise from it.

                            Don't discount the fact that some EMS/IR horses can't handle much, or any alfalfa.
                            Last edited by JB; Sep. 15, 2019, 03:21 PM.
                            ______________________________
                            The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              According to our vet, alfalfa has enough phosphorus for a mature horse.
                              It does has more calcium than needed, but that doesn't mean it needs phosphorus, because it has enough already.

                              It is only when skeletal growth is rapid when the balance of calcium and phosphorus is important, as in horses up to around 2 years old.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                It's not that there isn't enough phos, it's that there's too much Ca relative to the amount of Phos, and to other minerals.
                                https://ker.com/equinews/providing-d...phorus-horses/

                                "Although the effect of excessive calcium intake in the horse has not been well established, it seems that high levels in the diet may interfere with the absorption of trace minerals such as iron, zinc, and copper. "

                                The question is - what ratio is too high.
                                ______________________________
                                The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  I was addressing the calcium/phosphorus imbalance's importance for mature horses.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    I know I'm just saying that ca and phos don't exist in a vacuum, as there are implications with other minerals as well.
                                    ______________________________
                                    The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by JB View Post
                                      I know I'm just saying that ca and phos don't exist in a vacuum, as there are implications with other minerals as well.
                                      True that and more is learned every day we were not aware of before.

                                      The re-feeding protocol for starved horses by UC Davis vet school used to be, may still be today, several small meals a day of alfalfa first for a few days, then start adding whatever the horse may eat.

                                      Alfalfa can be fed alone to mature horses as a full feed, unless grown in the few places that are really short of some minerals.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        If the horse is getting free choice alfalfa now and you are happy with her condition and and temperament I wouldn’t be trying to change it..especially if you can make an easy transition to your barn with the same hay. Just take into account that she will be receiving the same amount of riding and turnout as her current facility.
                                        Too often new owners take their horses home and don’t listen to the previous owners who said, Pookie is ridden 6 days a week in training and is also turned out 12 hours a day....all they hear is straight alfalfa! Two weeks later, their kind laid back little horse is doing gymnastics in the rafters! Just remember to take everything into account.
                                        As far as feeding straight alfalfa, I don’t see a problem with it....in the Midwest that is often that most easily accessible hay and most trainers I know feed it as their sole forage. Back in the east I feed oats, about 4 flakes of alfalfa a day plus free choice 2nd cutting grass.....if alfalfa wasn’t $300+ a ton I would feed solely the alfalfa but it’s not economical for sure.

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