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The truth about alfalfa

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  • The truth about alfalfa

    I have heard very mixed messages on the topic so I thought I'd come to COTH. I figured this has been done to death but I couldn't find it doing a search so, what is the truth about feeding alfalfa?

    Background: I have a mare who has coliced on alfalfa before at two different boarding barns in two states. (Yes I know some people say that's not possible but she stopped having the mild colics as soon as her hay was switched). Mind you, she was stalled much of the day at the time and is now out 24/7. I've been very careful to buy grass hay or a mix since I bought my own farm. This year, the same guys I've bought lovely grass hay from for several years showed up and unloaded as usual. It turns out it was almost straight alfalfa. I talked to my neighbor about trading hay. She had some mostly grass hay that they cut. The problem is, my girls are wasting a great deal of it and I'm not thrilled with the quality. So, shall I go ahead and feed the good quality alfalfa and just keep an eye on her? Again, she is out 24/7 now and not getting a large quanity of hay.

    Second question: I've been reading up on hay to try to find the difinite answer to this and was reading about blister beetles. I know Kentucky isn't a prime location for them but are they possible since we've been in drought? I've found something on the floor under the pallets but haven't found anything in the hay but just thought I'd ask.
    Last edited by Holly Jeanne; Dec. 4, 2008, 02:47 PM.
    Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Goethe

  • #2
    Again, she is out 24/7 now and not getting a large quanity of hay

    I think that may be part of the problem
    Horses require lots of hay ~ mine have it in front of them most of the time. Feeding straight alfalfa, I wouldn't suggest it ~ thats pretty rich. Hay that has some alfalfa in it, I think is perfect! I buy grass hay and supplement it with a good alfafa mix.
    Can you feed grass hay and mix in some alfalfa with it, so its not straight alfalfa?

    Comment


    • #3
      I would never feed straight alfalfa - it can make horses hot and lead to stone formation in the gut. Particularly since she's already telling you she does not seem to tolerate it well.

      We just lost a horse to colic - 20+ year old TB who was on straight alfalfa, grain and daily wormer. He never had issues before with it, but it may have just caught up with him, or perhaps it was a combination of things.

      Comment

      • Original Poster

        #4
        Again, she is out 24/7 now and not getting a large quanity of hay

        I think that may be part of the problem
        Horses require lots of hay ~
        If I fed more than she's getting, I'd have a foundered horse. She's obese as it is and that's on 1 cup a day of grain just to keep her happy. Vet says don't feed any more than I absolutely have to. I swear she could live on air. I'll ask around about getting some grass hay but I spent a fortune on hay this year (not knowing they didn't have grass hay) and I'm not sure where I'm going to put more. I've been so careful for 9 years now but the drought in Kentucky has messed up my hay choices.
        Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Goethe

        Comment


        • #5
          I would try to sell or get rid of some the rich hay you have if your horse is going to founder on it. Get some plain grass hay and you will be able to give him more and not worry about it. If your horse is at risk of founder and that obese, I would get rid of the grain, he will be fine without it.

          Comment


          • #6
            She might be allergic to Alfalfa. Alfalfa is a premium hay. You should be able to trade it for some grass hay of good quality.

            I know it sounds good to keep an eye on your horse, but what good is that if your eye see's her colic? Sounds like for that horse the crappy grass hay and waste is still more cost efficient then Alfalfa and a few Vet bills for colic.

            Comment

            • Original Poster

              #7
              Thanks

              Thanks! The crappy hay still has alfalfa in it but not so much as the straight alfalfa and she's perfectly happy right now. Ironically, the drought has made alfalfa pretty easy to get around here and grass hay much more difficult.

              Anyone know about blister beetles in Kentucky?
              Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Goethe

              Comment


              • #8
                I went from feeding free choice alfalfa (first cutting and stemmy) for 23 years to free choice grass last winter - result was 2 foundered horses - one I lost. I am back to mostly alfalfa now and I test all my hay for sugar content. I do feed probios to my horses as the alfalfa can cause them some gas problems.

                All I can say is good luck - I was SHOCKED by my problems from last winter and I hope to never have them happen again.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Post an ad in your nearby Craigs List that you are looking to swap Aflalfa hay for grass hay. Try to get some 1st cutting grass. Timothy would be good. Also put up ads at your nearby grain store. If there are dairy cows or feed steers they prefer the rich hay and may have some to swap.

                  So far as Blister Beetle. Your best answer will come from your vet's office or the University of Kentucky equine clinics. They will know if there's been problems from BBeetles in hay in your geographic area.

                  Once you get a diff hay, put her hay in hay bags and nets and hang them safely. Double net them if possible to slow down her consumption to avoid the weight problem. Place her hay in small amounts throughout her pasture (if she has her own space)... to make her walk between piles and her water.

                  Good Luck. The only thing I didn't like about Alf was how much more my horse drank (and then PEED) when he got that. out 24/7 isn't so bad, but when he was stalled... I thought I would go broke with shavings. Thankfully, it was only 5 weeks while in training.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    You don't need to "starve" an obese horse (which is in effect what you are doing by severly limiting forage). They should still get the required 1.5% of their body weight in forage or you are going to solve one problem while creating a multitude of others.

                    I agree with some of the others. It is better to go with some lower quality (but obviously horse safe) hay that you can feed more of than the more expensive, richer hay.

                    Comment

                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      Thanks!

                      Thanks for many very good suggestions. I will keep trading off for the not quite as good of hay and will see if I can locate some grass hay in addition. I'll also contact the UK Ag and ask about blister beetles. Just thought one of the other KY folks might know.

                      Thanks to those who are concerned but I can assure you she is not starving. If she were, she (and the other two) would not be wasting hay as I mentioned above.
                      (
                      my girls are wasting a great deal of it
                      )

                      She's actually been on the same feeding regiment (except grass hay) for 9 years and has been quite healthy and happy. What I said was:
                      Again, she is out 24/7 now and not getting a large quanity of hay.
                      . She's not getting a large quantity of hay but I'm not exactly "severly limiting forage" either. To be reassured, take a look. It's the Briana that is in three of these pictures, including one taken last weekend.

                      http://web.centre.edu/dajones/
                      Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Goethe

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by BornToRide View Post
                        I would never feed straight alfalfa - it can make horses hot and lead to stone formation in the gut.
                        Entirely depends on where the alf is grown. On the West coast, a huge number of horses never see grass hay. But their alfalfa is not at all the same as here on the East coast which, IMHO, is not at all suitable to be fed free choice or close to it. WC alf is closer to good grass hay on the East cost. That's not to say there aren't issues, as in I would be making sure to add phos.

                        Originally posted by stuge View Post
                        You don't need to "starve" an obese horse (which is in effect what you are doing by severly limiting forage). They should still get the required 1.5% of their body weight in forage or you are going to solve one problem while creating a multitude of others.
                        And in fact you SHOULD NOT "starve" an overweight horse, as that is just asking for (more) metabolic issues.
                        ______________________________
                        The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Entirely depends on where the alf is grown. On the West coast, a huge number of horses never see grass hay. But their alfalfa is not at all the same as here on the East coast which, IMHO, is not at all suitable to be fed free choice or close to it. WC alf is closer to good grass hay on the East cost. That's not to say there aren't issues, as in I would be making sure to add phos.
                          Guess where I am and what it did to my horse and my mini - one got hyper and the other foundered! I know of plenty of other horses who are hyperly affected by it and obese. We just lost a 20+ year old TB who was on straight alfalfa and grain for some time to colic. Perhaps it was also a contributing factor. Perhaps he had formed an enterolith that contributed to the condition, which feeding alfalfa promotes!

                          Alfalfa here can be just as bad for horses as in other parts of the country!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Just like with soy and other things, there are differences within horses. I'm just saying that lots and lots and lots of horses out West never eat anything else and live long happy lives.
                            ______________________________
                            The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              It really depends JB because many horse owners do not see the problems or problems are attributed to something else. MY BO two horses are on straight alfalfa and grain. Both are obese and look very tight in their bodies. Is that happy and healthy? I think they could be better.

                              Another person has her horses on the same diet. The mare is extremely cranky all the time, both are also very tight in their bodies and extremely over reactive. Is that happy and healthy? I think they could be better too and the list goes on and on.

                              One of my clients feeds straight alfalfa - again all the horses are more reactive than they should be - others have had hoof problems that were attributed to the wet environment but cleared up once on a different diet.

                              Perhaps some are happy and healthy, but all I have seen so far did react to alfalfa in some way - most were hyper reactive on it, including even TBs. One of the biggest problems I face is to educate people so they can actually spot the problems, because most are so wrapped up in their traditional thinking that something they are doing can't possibly be causing the problem.

                              I am actually a bit suprised to hear this from a Dynamite person , since Dynamite is generally so set against using alfalfa.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by BornToRide View Post
                                It really depends JB because many horse owners do not see the problems or problems are attributed to something else.
                                I said the same thing - it depends. I've seen lots and of pictures and videos from California and Arizona who only get alfalfa hay, have only gotten alfalfa, and they look and move in a very healthy looking manner. Could they be better? I think most horses could, even if just a little.

                                MY BO two horses are on straight alfalfa and grain. Both are obese and look very tight in their bodies. Is that happy and healthy? I think they could be better.
                                Maybe it's the grain Maybe those horses can't handle alfalfa. I did say that if you feed straight alfalfa you do need to take that nutritional content into consideration.

                                Another person has her horses on the same diet. The mare is extremely cranky all the time, both are also very tight in their bodies and extremely over reactive. Is that happy and healthy? I think they could be better too and the list goes on and on.
                                Why would I think a horse like that is happy and healthy? Sure they could, SHOULD be better.

                                Perhaps some are happy and healthy, but all I have seen so far did react to alfalfa in some way - most were hyper reactive on it, including even TBs. One of the biggest problems I face is to educate people so they can actually spot the problems, because most are so wrapped up in their traditional thinking that something they are doing can't possibly be causing the problem.
                                I agree, there's a huge lack of education on what a healthy horse looks and moves like. Some people feel oats are evil. My OTTB mare is on 2lb a day and looks the best she ever has. SOME horses cannot have a single grain of oats. Neither one is all good nor all evil.

                                I am actually a bit suprised to hear this from a Dynamite person , since Dynamite is generally so set against using alfalfa.
                                You should know by now that I am not a cult-follower of Dynamite I have fed oil on a Dynamite program as well And, FYI, Dynamite is not "set against" using alfalfa, they just suggest no more than 20% alfalfa, as do many vets and nutritionists, etc. Alfalfa in and of itself is not evil.
                                ______________________________
                                The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Yes, I feel the same - up to 20% alfalfa of the overall diet but not straight. My gelding did not tolerate just the alfalfa either - made him fly higher than a kite and I know of plenty TBs with the same problem, just on alfalfa.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    I would never feed straight alfalfa - it can make horses hot and lead to stone formation in the gut.
                                    The major reason that this happens is NOT the fault of the alfalfa!!! Alfalfa is a very good hay for horses. The BIG problem comes with the fact that IF it is good quality alfalfa, it is higher in nutrition than grass hay and MOST people make the mistake (well, two mistakes actually) of 1) not cutting the grain, so that the combination of the amount of grain they have been getting - in combination with the new, nutrient rich alfalfa hay, is just too much feed; and 2) most people take away the grass hay and put down alfalfa hay without ever weaning the horse off grass hay and onto alfalfa hay and it is way too much of a challenge for their digestive systems.

                                    It is much easier to switch brands of grain - after all, oats is oats, so to speak, but grass hay and alfalfa hay are completely different and require different enzymes and microbes to digest them.

                                    If you are going to switch the horse from one to the other, do it gradually, adding in bits of one and decreasing bits of the other over, maybe, a 2 week period, at least. Also, the Calcium/Phosphorus ratio is completely different for the two. Horses need a feed balance for each, depending on what hay they're on. Switching to alfalfa requires switching to a feed balanced for a higher phosphorus ratio, a lower protein content and probably a lot less of it. Switching to grass requires a balance for calcium, more protein and maybe more feed - again depending on which feed you use.

                                    One of the most useful feeds that has come about in recent years is the ration balancer type feeds. These feeds balance the ration - that is the hay portion of the diet. Forage (hay) should ALWAYS be the base of a horse's diet. You can buy grass balancer rations or alfalfa balanced rations. Feeding grass hay and quarts of sweet feed or pellets, and then switching to alfalfa hay with quarts of sweet feed or pellets is BOUND to cause digestive problems in the horse. It's NOT the alfalfa, it how you make the switch and what you feed with it that causes the problems!!!!!
                                    Tranquility Farm - Proud breeder of Born in the USA Sport Horses, and Cob-sized Warmbloods
                                    Now apparently completely invisible!

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Tiki View Post
                                      The major reason that this happens is NOT the fault of the alfalfa!!!
                                      To be fair, some horses are allergic to it, and even a small amount can make them bounce off the walls. So yes, for some horses it IS directly the fault of the alfalfa.
                                      ______________________________
                                      The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        I guess I don't understand how alfalfa always gets a bad rap.
                                        I have all of the hay we grow here tested and the alfalfa comes back the best for my EPSM horse. His coat looks great, great weight, very happy, not a dead head, but will trot up to the fence to see me.
                                        Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it all about the testing??? Any hay can be either poor quality, too much of one thing and not enough of another...
                                        What in the alfalfa makes ya'lls horses hot? too much protein?

                                        Comment

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