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Colic blamed on alfalfa cubes...

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  • Colic blamed on alfalfa cubes...

    I have a teenage family member who lives about 8 hours away from me and just got a horse about 6 months ago, his family is clueless about horses and although he's genuinely learning as much as he can, he's very much a beginner. I have tried to help him out as much as I can with questions and advice, but as I said, I live far away.

    The grass hay they have been buying is very low quality - not moldy/dusty but looks to be low in nutritional value and protein. They also feed him about half a pound of complete pellets per day. To supplement the hay, 2 weeks ago they began feeding soaked alfalfa cubes. Starting with 2-3 pounds (dry weight) and building up to 5 pounds per day. They did soak the cubes very well, for several hours beforehand, to an almost soupy consistency.

    Yesterday the horse colicked - they called a vet (they still haven't gotten a regular vet - despite my prior urging) who came out, gave him a shot for pain, presumably banamine, and administered some mineral oil. Horse felt great after. Apparently the vet blamed the alfalfa cubes, and the owners do too, believing the alfalfa cubes are pretty much evil and stopped feeding them.

    Has anyone had a problem like this with alfalfa cubes? I was a bit puzzled about it, although I can understand where they'd think there was a correlation and are trying to be safe rather than sorry. However, I thought alfalfa cubes were very safe to feed, if soaked properly.

    The horse was dewormed with Ivermectin 2 weeks ago also. He hadn't been dewormed regularly before that and likely had a high worm load, although if he was going to colic from deworming I would think it would have been right after he was dewormed? He's 3 year old 13.2 hand arabian/appaloosa cross. He is kept at their home on a dry lot - no pasture. The grass hay is fed free choice. He always has access to fresh water.

  • #2
    Only thing I can think of is that they let it soak too long and it went funky. OR they fed all 5 pounds at once.
    <>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.

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    • Original Poster

      #3
      Originally posted by ChocoMare View Post
      Only thing I can think of is that they let it soak too long and it went funky. OR they fed all 5 pounds at once.

      Do you mean all 5 pounds at once without building slowly up to it?

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      • #4
        Could be.

        OR they soaked all 5 pounds. Fed 2 1/2 and "held" the other 2 1/2 to feed later. That "later batch" went funky.

        All are possible scenarios.
        <>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by ChocoMare View Post
          Could be.

          OR they soaked all 5 pounds. Fed 2 1/2 and "held" the other 2 1/2 to feed later. That "later batch" went funky.

          All are possible scenarios.
          Yes, all are possible scenarios that popped into my head, too. Hay cubes don't need to be soaked for "several hours" before feeding. In the summer months, that can actually be a bad thing.


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          • #6
            We never soaked alfalfa cubes, other than for a few days for a horse that had some mouth or other problems.

            I am assuming you are talking about true cubes, those 1 1/2" by 2" cubes of compressed alfalfa, not the larger pellets of processed alfalfa.


            I hope all will be fine with the change.
            If he is getting a full, complete ration in his regular feed, he doesn't need but some lesser quality hay for munch factor, that won't need to provide nutrition.
            The trouble with that is that, if the horse eats a larger volume of poor quality hay, it may get impaction colic from that.

            I expect they will have to work with whatever is available locally.

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            • #7
              If fed all 5 pounds at once, did the horse eat them like a meal, or did he pick at them throughout the day? My mare would eat hers as quickly as she could, so I had to only give her small amounts throughout the day. When soaked, they do get bulky, and all that food at once can cause an upset tummy. Since they are soaked, they are pretty easy to chew and swallow, taking a lot less time to eat then regular hay.
              Happy Hour-TB
              Cowboy Casanova - Brandenburg

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              • #8
                My first thought as I read your post is that the grass hay may notbe as ucky as you think. I had a load of hay one year that looked so crappy. But it was a dry dry year so it was all I could get. I sent it off to be analyzed and it was fine. But if I had to take a wild guess I would say the most common mistake people new to horses make is to over feed them. A 13.3 horse really shouldn't eat that much, but to new horse owners they seem so BIG that they should eat as much as a dog the same size would (ie. my Mother) I would ask if he is cleaning up his feed and have them send you a current pic to see if he is getting porky. If he is leaving the soaked hay then you know it is fermenting but he could just be gorging. Glad he is OK. I am so surprised I didn't kill my first horse.
                “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
                ? Rumi






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                • #9
                  Did the vet give an explaination why the cubes were to blame?
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                  • #10
                    When was the last time they dewormed him? Is the water clean and is the horse drinking enough? Is he kept alone? Ulcers are another thing to rule out (and lots of horses have them).

                    I'd be looking at those things before blaming the alfalfa cubes, unless they let them get truly rancid (doubtful a well fed horse would eat them if that were the case though).

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                    • #11
                      I seriously doubt that soaked hay cubes were the problem. The horse could have eaten a noxious weed, or twisted a bit rolling from flies, or had a bite of grain with a bad piece in it, a sliver from chewing wood, worm migration - IMPOSSIBLE to say for certain it was the cubes. Some people (vets) think the phases of the moon influence colics as well as barometric pressure, wind, etc.
                      "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there"

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                      • #12
                        Vets like to blame hay cubes for colic. Vets also don't like Bermuda hay but lots of horses eat Bermuda without any issues. Sometimes if a horse's teeth are too sharp and they can't chew the cubes completely, it can cause gut problems. Also, if the horse eats the cubes too quickly, that can also upset their stomachs. If a horse is eating too quickly, sometimes we put large rocks in their feeder to make them move the rocks around so they can't eat so fast. Have the vet check the horse's teeth to see if they need to be floated, and also make sure the horse has been properly wormed.

                        From what I've gathered, a lot of colics happen around times of quick weather changes. Horses don't drink enough water causing upset tummies. I've had phenomenal luck [KNOCK WOOD!] with bran mashing my horses whenever the weather turns quickly, or if I suspect after a hard workout that they might be dehydrated. I don't make it too mushy, but I do like to make sure they get enough water down their throats.

                        Just my two cents...

                        Edit: I've never soaked hay cubes but I would suspect that they could ferment pretty quickly causing some stomach trouble. I wouldn't leave left over soaked cubes in the horse's stall for more than a few hours.
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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by SecondEdition View Post
                          They did soak the cubes very well, for several hours beforehand, to an almost soupy consistency.
                          He's 3 year old 13.2 hand arabian/appaloosa cross. He is kept at their home on a dry lot - no pasture. The grass hay is fed free choice. He always has access to fresh water.

                          it would seem to me that the grass hay they have fed him may have a fiber too high to to pass easily thru the hindgut....

                          it will be the grass hay that I would vote for...maybe that and a half full water bucket.....honestly, there is not much need for a dirt lotted 13.2hh pony to get 5 pounds of soaked alfalfa cubes and free choice grass hay...unless the hay just soooooooo sucks that it is just bedding....or they live near the arctic circle...

                          and about cubes I will tell you if the hay was dehydrated before cubing it is NOT a 1:1 ratio but more like 2:1 dry weight

                          best
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                          I am one of the last 210,000 remaining full time farmers in America.We feed the others.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Tamara in TN View Post
                            .....honestly, there is not much need for a dirt lotted 13.2hh pony to get 5 pounds of soaked alfalfa cubes and free choice grass hay...unless the hay just soooooooo sucks that it is just bedding....
                            My thoughts as well. Why is the horse eating that much alfalfa, unless the regular hay is not good at all? My TB would be fat as a tick if I added that to her winter feed (which is hay and no pasture). I'd be thinking more along the lines of worming issues or simply just due to not enough water?? It can happen....

                            Good luck!

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                            • #15
                              Some vets are really weird about alfalfa. My horse got colitis and died this Feb, my vet said that the alfalfa hay I had been feeding him (for months) was a possible cause because of the high protein.

                              I don't believe this, besides the fact that it was impeccable quality and I had been feeding it to him for months with out him getting sick... my other horse who is more pron to colic and gastro problems was being fed MORE and never had a problem.

                              who knows
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                              • #16
                                Originally posted by Meredith Clark View Post
                                Some vets are really weird about alfalfa. My horse got colitis and died this Feb, my vet said that the alfalfa hay I had been feeding him (for months) was a possible cause because of the high protein.

                                I don't believe this, besides the fact that it was impeccable quality and I had been feeding it to him for months with out him getting sick... my other horse who is more pron to colic and gastro problems was being fed MORE and never had a problem.

                                who knows
                                Honestly, I don't trust vets very much at all. If I ever find one that I love and think is really smart (and up to date) I will never let them go! I try to take what I can from their knowledge and fill in the blanks on my own. Nutrition is one of their worst areas.
                                “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
                                ? Rumi






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                                • #17
                                  5 pounds of cubes before soaking will make a huge bucket of soup, too much it would seem to me, for one meal for a small horse. I don't have any on hand to weigh but I feed them in the winter, when there is no grass.
                                  Piney Woods

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                                  • #18
                                    That much at once may have made the horse gassy.

                                    Another possibility is that the Ph change and the high mineral content in the alfalfa may cause entrolith formation which is quite common in parts of the country, UC Davis Vet School published a paper on this a while back - great article and I have included the link.

                                    http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/vsr/gastrolab/TOPICS.html
                                    Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.
                                    Bernard M. Baruch

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                                    • #19
                                      I had one I was trying to put weight on and hung a big 5 gallon bucket of them for him at all times. Never wet them, never had a problem at all with them. Never saw anything put weight on a horse as fast as those things did. I love them.

                                      Also, I think I read here on this very site that that is SOLELY what they feed at LA Equestrian Center (I think that was the facility).

                                      "If you have the time, spend it. If you have a hand, lend it. If you have the money, give it. If you have a heart, share it." by me

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                                      • #20
                                        For my master's thesis project, I had twelve mares eating essentially free choice alfalfa cubes (unsoaked) and no other forage for 9+ weeks with no colics. For the majority of the studies we do here, the horses receive only alfalfa cubes as a forage source so that we can measure exactly what they are eating. In the two years and several dozen projects I've worked on here, we've had exactly two colics - one in a weanling who got himself all worked up over being separated from his buddies for the first time and one average gas colic in a mature mare. I HIGHLY doubt it was the alfalfa cubes.

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