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free choice alfalfa?

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    free choice alfalfa?

    I could have sworn I saw a thread about this not too long ago but I searched and couldn't find it, so sorry if this is a repeat.

    I moved not too long ago, and I noticed that a lot of my new neighbors are feeding alfalfa free choice. Their horses look fantastic although I don't feel like I know any of them well enough yet to ask if they have any issues...seems kind of like an invasion of privacy. I had always heard it was a terrible idea to give so much alfalfa, though. So I figured I'd turn to COTH!

    Does anyone here feed alfalfa free choice? Is it a good idea or terribly dangerous? FWIW I'm pretty sure most of it is locally grown and the local hay does not tend to be very rich. Of course this is also assuming that the horse doesn't have any unrelated health issues that would make alfalfa unacceptable, as in that case the answer would quite clearly be no.
    exploring the relationship between horse and human

    If I fed my horses free choice alfalfa they'd weigh 3,000 pounds! They seriously act like vacuum cleaners when alfalfa is offered. I changed them all over to grass hay two years ago, and am very happy with the results. At my old barn they got alfalfa twice a day, but in conservative amounts, certainly not free choice. My old guy gets some alfalfa now, but I'm trying to get him to gain some weight after the winter. I swear if the other two even get a whiff of it from afar they gain weight.


      Original Poster

      I usually feed alfalfa, just not free choice. I'm not really planning on doing that because one of my guys tends to be a little rotund, I can just imagine him eating all the alfalfa he wants! I feed grass as well, and they have been on it free choice but it is pretty hard to get in my area, at least in those quantities. That's part of why I asked, because I do like my horses to have free choice hay, but I think they may just have to deal with it.
      exploring the relationship between horse and human


        My guys all get second cut alfalfa in the barn and feeders. We zero grazed alfalfa fields. That means morning and night we cut and loaded a wagon with fresh cut alfalfa and forked it over the fence to the horses.
        I will not buy and feed anything but alfalfa for winter hay and my guy is sleek.


          Original Poster

          But is it free choice, as in they can eat as much as they want at any time? Like I said, I feed alfalfa myself, but I've never seen it fed free choice before.
          exploring the relationship between horse and human


            I really think it depends on the horse. I could most likely feed my TB free choice falf and he wouldn't get too fat (fat for a TB maybe). I don't have access to it though, so he gets soaked falf cubes everyday, pasture and free choice timothy.
            Boyle Heights Kid 1998 16.1h OTTB Dark Bay Gelding
            Quiet Miracle 2010 16.1h OTTB Bay Gelding
            "Once you go off track, you never go back!"


              Our horses are mostly TBs & yes we feed alfalfa free choice in round bale rings - as much as they can eat 24/7. They do fine on it.


                I'd very VERY careful with that - not all horses tolerate it well. You can get hyper and foundered horses from that.


                  I've never fed it free choice because my horses would keep eating until they popped, but I do think that alfalfa has a place in their diet.


                    We have always fed free choice alfalfa for horse kept outside. My parents owned a large H/J farm and then later an TB racing operation. My father is a large grower and distributor for the major TB race horse tracks and farms, so his hay is top notch. We never had a horse or pony colic, founder, or have any other issues due to the hay either. An added bonus is that my dad's alfalfa is acid treated so it's virtually dust free. Great for allergies!

                    If your horse isn't used to alfalfa, you'll need to introduce it slowly though.


                      mine get free choice alfalfa mix (orchard or timothy), but I usually shop around for stuff that is practically indistinguishable from straight alfalfa. I've found over the years, that they pretty much eat about the same amount of hay every day whether it is a pure grass hay, mediocre mix or primarily alfalfa. The only difference is that they lose weight FAST on grass hay even with the grain upped, need some extra grain when it is more grass than alfalfa in the mix, do OK on good alfalfa and get their grain cut and will not hardly bother with the alfalfa (in the stall) when the grass is good in the pasture.

                      It works for me since I can keep the Not An Easy Keeper TB in good weight and work on about 7lbs of grain/day, and I have to feed so much more the few times he has been on a straight grass hay with cubes.

                      The youngster is an easy keeper, but right now he's growing so I can do the same thing - keep him in good weight with less grain more hay. As he matures he might be an air fern though, so he may need a lower calorie hay to keep the free choice approach.

                      Right now I've got this in his stall for a hay feeder, so he gets all the good quality hay he could want, but he has to work at it.
                      Attached Files
                      Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.


                        Definitely yes for some - event horses in full work had it in front of them pretty much all the time to keep weight on. My old Arab would probably do really well on it but it's not compatible with his turnout group (morgans, QH's, young Arabs, etc) so he just gets it in his stall at night.


                          Alfalfa has more myths surrounding it than there are urban legends floating around.

                          I feed it in large quantities to various horses including a very aged mini, a high-strung TB, and a recovering starvation case. I have fed it in the form of round bales (free choice). I also have some alfalfa in my pasture seed mix, upon which my horses graze daily. Oh. My. God. My horses will probably die. I've been feeding this way for years but I'm sure they're on death's door.

                          Seriously, it is a very good source of nutrition and yes, it can provide more nutrition (calories) than some horses need to consume, so feeding it free choice will depend upon the quality of the hay and the requirements of your horse, as well as whatever else you're feeding. It does not have a balanced mineral profile. There have been concerns about alfalfa's possible connection with the formation of enteroliths in western states. However, there is no association between alfalfa and enterolith formation in the eastern states, so most authorities on the subject seem to think it is something in the soil, water, or a difference in the composition of the hay that causes this, so that may be a consideration based on your location. It does NOT cause kidney damage. Saying that alfalfa can cause founder is about the same as pointing out things that can cause cancer. Sometimes people just get cancer, whether they smoke, ingest large amounts of artificial sweetener, sunbathe for decades or not. Just like some horses founder for unapparent reasons. Not a helpful generalization.


                          I do think free choice alfalfa will provide more than most equines need, but as other posters have said, a round bale divided amongst the right number and type of horses can be great. Mine did seem to be more gluttonous at first but have since down-regulated their intake and don't hoover up the alfalfa like they did initially. And if you do feed alfalfa, you'll have to balance your minerals but you won't need to be adding additional calories or protein.


                            Original Poster

                            Thanks for all the responses, especially the informative meaty ogre. I guess I really shouldn't be that shocked, I've fed alfalfa forever, sometimes in very large quantities, and (knock on wood) never had one of my own founder or colic (well, I've had two mild gas colics but nothing serious--pretty good for 15 years of horse ownership, right?). I just have had it so drilled into my head that alfalfa is dangerous that in spite of my own experiences it made me do a double take to see it being fed like that. I never said I was entirely rational.
                            exploring the relationship between horse and human


                              I know a lady who raised QH's for racing. Fed free choice alfalfa and kept them on grass. Don't think she had too many problems. Then she got 3 Norwegian Fjiord horses. Foundered two of them, and together, they were the fattest horses I have ever seen in my life. She gave them away to someone who fed to individual need, and they lost a bunch of weight and got sound.

                              So the answer is 'it depends on what kind of horse'.
                              Are you feeding your horse like a cow?


                                And my foundered pony does GREAT on alfalfa - better than on grass hay. So I would go further and say it depends on the INDIVIDUAL horse, not just the "kind" of horse.

                                And I agree with everything meaty ogre said.