Alfalfa Hay and Blister Beetles

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Alfalfa Hay and Blister Beetles

This is a discussion on Alfalfa Hay and Blister Beetles within the Horse Health forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Horses category
  • Blister bugs on alfalfa cubes
  • How do i know if there are blister beetles in my hay

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    10-09-2011, 10:08 PM
Alfalfa Hay and Blister Beetles

I hope this is the right forum. So I read that article in horse illustrated about the dangers of alfalfa hay. I realized that I feed my horse alfalfa hay. How concerned should I be about feeding my horse this hay.
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    10-09-2011, 11:12 PM
depends on where you get the it's cut I think

Ive fed alfalfa for years and never seen a horse get poisoned by blister beetles. It's my understanding that it has to do with how the hay is cut.
Something about if it's cut long like hay the beetles leave the hay after cutting but if it's mowed or chopped up I think it was and the beetles die before getting a chance to leave the hay then you could have problems. I know that it only takes like 5 beetles to kill a full size horse.

Ask some of the Members that grow hay. I know Production Acres grows and sells some good alfalfa. Give him a PM Im sure he can tell you all about it :)
    10-10-2011, 12:22 AM
Super Moderator
When I lived in Colorado, I never heard of blister beetles. When I moved to OK, one of the first things I heard was how 9 horses died at one farm earlier that year. I guess OK is the worst place in the world for them, particularly the Wa****a River Valley.

Ask your hay supplier. They will know if your hay comes from an area known for blister beetles or not.

Mowing with an old fashioned mower helps. It is the crimper on a swather that kills a lot of them in the hay. In order to keep leaves, almost all alfalfa is cut with a crimper. But, when a tractor tire runs over the fresh mowed hay, it can smash enough of them to kill a horse. So, there is no 'safe' alfalfa hay from an area that has them unless it is cut early in the year. Once the daytime temp hits 90 degrees, the beetles hatch out and are there until fall. Hot years are worse than cool, wet years. Around here, the only safe hay is first cutting. It is cut before they hatch out for the year.
    10-10-2011, 12:35 AM
It depends on where you live. When I lived in AZ & CA I never fed anything but alfalfa. It's plentiful there and not conducive to blister beetles. Here in OK I never feed alfalfa at all unless I can certify that it comes from a non-blister beetle state. I'll feed pellets or cubes but not fresh cut local alfalfa.
    10-10-2011, 03:17 PM
Green Broke
I believe the beetles like the flowering alfalfa. So hay cut before flowering is safe to feed.
Thankfully we don't have blister beetles in WI.
    10-10-2011, 06:01 PM
Thanks for the help everyone!
    10-10-2011, 09:40 PM
Originally Posted by natisha    
I believe the beetles like the flowering alfalfa. So hay cut before flowering is safe to feed.
Thankfully we don't have blister beetles in WI.
ah right something about the flowers, I do remember that. I'm from OK originally and we always fed alfalfa and never had any problems. This is years and get ours from wherever was cheapest and would give us a cheap price to pick up in the field. Having 3 kids in the family our labor what dirt cheap LOL (read free) never did I even hear of someone else having problems with this....

Coming from a big alfalfa state im assuming that the old time farmers just knew about the beetles. And knew how to avoid poisoning the horses with their hay. Lucky for me casue I didn't have a CLUE as a kid that it was ever a problem. If a bunch of horses dies on one farm I'd have to think they were new to alfalfa and just baled or cut it improperly or at the wrong time and that was that.
    10-10-2011, 10:45 PM
Super Moderator
It is usually big training barns and breeders that get hit. They have a lot of horses and buy all of their hay. I have known a couple that bought hay that was supposed to come from irrigated fields out in Western OK or West TX, or was supposed to be first cutting, but the hay dealer lied.

You can feed a ton of hay and all of the beetles will be in one or two bales. They go through a field in a swarm. I have found swarms of them in my garden. They will defoliate a path through a field if the swarm is big enough.

There are several kinds of them but the ones we see the most are Long, slender ones that are about 1 inch long and are striped. The ones around here are yellow or creme colored with black or gray stripes running the full length of them. You cannot miss them.

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