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Feeding alfalfa - enteroliths?

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  • Feeding alfalfa - enteroliths?

    I had a friend (who owned horses most of her life) who was shocked that I don't feed my horse grain, but I feed her alfalfa pellets and a vit/mineral supplement. Friend claimed that alfalfa was directly related to colic (I'm assuming from the connection with enteroliths...that's the only connection I can find searching through studies on thehorse.com).

    Mare also gets turned out most of the day on grass, and she's fed 10-15 lbs. of hay a day (when brought in for night). She gets about 2 lbs. of alfalfa pellets a day (1 lb. in morning, 1 lb. at night) and the vitamin I mentioned above (and MSM, not sure if that factors into this conversation or not). She has been a different animal since I took her off grain about a year ago - attitude is much better, not as pissy in general. And, I like the afalfa's help with any tendency towards ulcers (mare has never shown signs, but we do travel a bit). I also like that the alfalfa adds a bit of nutrition for those hay shipments that are not quite as good as others (I board...I'm not in control of that part).

    So is my friend justified in being shocked at how I feed alfalfa? Am I doing something wrong?

    Feedback appreciated....TIA!

  • #2
    No, I don't think you're doing anything wrong. In fact you're not doing anything very different from what I'm doing which is probably why I don't think you're wrong!

    I've had a lot of old school horse people get the vapors about feeding alfalfa to horses but we've never had a problem and what I've found in my research doesn't tell me to expect any problems.
    “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey


    • #3
      There are a lot of people who mistakenly believe alfalfa is an evil feed that should never be fed to horses. It's a pretty common belief, I think.

      Personally I think alfalfa is awesome stuff. An equine nutritionist (ie a professional in horse feed) reccomended I feed alfalfa to help with potential ulcers. My mare gets 5 lbs a day and has for the last 3 years with no problems.

      2 lbs is really not very much.


      • #4
        Alfalfa CAN cause enteroliths – when feeding a ration high (as in mostly) alfalfa, without consideration to calcium phosphorous rations – especially when dealing with California alfalfa, and breeds (like Arabians) that appear more prone to developing enteroliths when fed alfalfa.

        You do see “stones” out here in CA with horses on all alfalfa diets (plus the sandy soil is thought to play a role).

        That said, I feed alfalfa. I have fed diets of primarily alfalfa (together with ration balancers to address the Ca : Ph ratio). I much prefer feeding alfalfa then “grain” and have found that my horses blossom on it.
        APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman


        • #5
          something about the minerals in California that contribute to "stones" - just feed sandclear/psyllium once a month for a week. One of the surgeons who's taken out many, many "dinasaur eggs" said in his experience (30+ yrs) it's mostly quarter horse geldings who get enteroliths from alfalfa in his practice. He recommended alfalfa for my belgian waffle for her "travel tummy"/possible ulcer.


          • #6
            Yep, it's mainly CA alfalfa that's the issue, and horses that eat a lot of it. I worked at a farm that fed straight alfalfa and would routinely find small "stones" in manure balls.
            I don't think that psyllium will do anything to help enteroliths, but some people think that feeding apple cider vinegar will.
            At any rate, you aren't feeding enough of it to be an issue anyway!
            As Peter, Paul, and Mary say, a dragon lives forever.


            • #7
              I'm pretty sure there is an article from UC Davis somewhere.

              ETA: OK, I found the article, and removed my mistaken recollection of what it said!



              • #8
                We started finding small stones in my BF's aged Mustang's poop. Vet found many more small stones upon rectal exam. Southern CA, raised on alfalfa primarily most of his life. The barn we boarded at the time didn't offer other options for feed, so our vet had her give him white vinegar daily to help with the ph and the formation of stones. He probably has some larger ones in there as well, but isn't showing any off days. We've since moved to a new barn that offers better quality and selection of roughage.

                Her 36 yo QH was let go after the 6 large stones she had started really causing her discomfort on a regular basis. But...my MFT gelding was on the exact same diet as both horses (stabled together) and had colic surgery at 24 (lipoma). No signs of any stones at all in his intestines when they were in there. He lived to 30 and lost him from kidney failure.
                Ulysses- the most perfect all-terrain vehicle ever. Hencho en Mexico

                Mr. Walter Bumblepants - Foster Dog Extraordinaire