Feeding Alfalfa hay - Page 2 - The Horse Forum
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post #11 of 21 Old 01-23-2012, 01:39 PM
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When you start off and you learn a little bit about hay you can become a "hay purist." Right now, pretty much everybody pays a LOT$ for their hay, so I suggest you look for:
1) clean, cured correctly and store it correctly
2) local, to keep your costs down
To keep costs down some hay suppliers have started to bale short, that is the bales are lighter. We feed by WEIGHT, not by the bale, so this can be a factor. I paid $4/bale in 2011. about 1/3 of it was a grass/alfalfa mix and the bales weighed about 35 pounds avg/each. The straight alfalfa bales were 50-60 lbs avg/each. I used to be able to buy heavier bales for a lot less, around $3.50 bale, avg 65 lbs/bale. I even had some bales that were too heavy to lift into my loft from my truck. Certainly the lighter bales are a LOT harder to stack, and I PREFER to stack my own, despite my age (54 yo.)
Curing has not been a big factor. I have, in my past 26 years of getting hay even gotten a load that was rained on. I opened them all up in my loft, turned them daily, dried them out and retied and stacked those. I think I had to feed 5/50 of those bales immediately, or else lose them to mold.
Hope this helps. =D
Oh, there is one bad thing about alfalfa hay..it turns your horse's pee pink! lol
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post #12 of 21 Old 01-23-2012, 01:40 PM
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Well, I am more apt to believe the publications from UC Davis than I am some random vet who may or may not believe the myth. Seeing as how UC Davis actually studies that kind of stuff.


The information I am talking about can be found on page 13 but to save you time looking (or if you don't have Adobe reader), they basically found that the extra protein was converted to energy and had a by-product of nitrogen which was then eliminated in the form of urea in the urine. All it did was increase the amount of ammonia in the urine, which is why they drink more, but there was no evidence of damage to the kidneys of healthy horses.

Now if a horse is unhealthy or has kidney issues already, then sure, the added protein might be dangerous, but that's it.

If you consider it, a good quality alfalfa will have 15-18% protein content. That is not much more than your average pelleted feed that is sold at feed stores worldwide.
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post #13 of 21 Old 01-23-2012, 09:23 PM Thread Starter
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Noone has every told me it was bad and thats all I have fed him since i have owned him but I have never asked a atual vet because a my horses never had any heath problems and b because I didnt that much about it. and he dosent seem to get to fat off of it even when not getting worked every day. Then i came down to ky for school and All i ever hear from all the teachers is how bad it is for your horse and how it hurting there kidneys and they look good but its from them being somewhat swollen and not realy fit whatever that means and i would thank it would only affect there kidneys if they didnt have enough water. but my qustion out of it if it was realy that bad for your horse wouldnt there be more information out about it I understand how it could hurt older horses but the ones that are young if use to it would be good for them... Also, I put him on Grass hey for one winter and summer and he just didnt hold weight and came out of winter not looking like he should have... that and i had to feed him twice as much. well but on allfa he is a easy keeper and he dont lose weight at all
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post #14 of 21 Old 01-23-2012, 10:31 PM
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Well, my Dad has been in the horse business as a professional trainer since the late 60's. For a good portion of that time and even now, all the horses under his care were fed a diet of alfalfa hay. None of them has had any kind of adverse reaction other than getting fat when they aren't worked LOL.

And, no, whenever a horse swells up as you might see with kidney malfunction, they swell up in their legs first (unless it is localized swelling from an injury). So, I'm sorry, but your teacher is wrong about the horses not being fit. One of the reasons that horses look so good when they are being fed an alfalfa diet and getting a good workout is that they can build more muscle than they do on a lower protein diet.

There is a lot of information out there and the info that comes from reputable sources say that alfalfa holds no risk to a healthy animal.

Always remember that feeling of looking at a big, open country over the ears of a good horse, seeing a new trail unwind ahead of you, and that ever-spectacular view from the top of the ridge!!! Follow my training blog: http://robertsontraining.blogspot.com/
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post #15 of 21 Old 01-24-2012, 09:34 AM
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Okay, then why don't the race horse people feed it to race horses?
(Standardbreds) I know several owners including a Vet ( State Vet) that owns racehorses , and these horses are worked much harder than any saddle horse.
The hay they feed is a Timothy, brome mix hay, No Alfalfa........
These are people that have been in the race horse business for 40 + years, I would think they know more about feeding a horse verses some feed salesman or hay supplier trying to make a buck.
With all the fads out there in the equine world today, The old saying may be true:
If you want to go broke, Buy a horse................
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post #16 of 21 Old 01-24-2012, 11:31 AM
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Let me tell you what I have learned and what I know about alfalfa. It DOES come with some dangers, especially for stalled horses. Since you cannot feed it free choice, stalled horses are MUCH more prone to ulcers when fed the standard 1-2 flakes AM and PM. This leaves them standing a stall 18 to 20 hours of every 24 hours with an empty stomach and they become prime candidates for ulcers.

Horses eating nothing but alfalfa do drink 2X as much water and sometime more. This makes for huge bedding bills in stalled horses but it also makes a horse more prone to scratches. Urine from alfalfa fed horses contains so much Nitrogen high ammonia (responsible for the strong ammonia smell when you go into a barn) that it literally burns a horse's lower legs when urine splashes on them. [Wash your windows with an ammonia solution and don't wear gloves and see what it does to your hands.]

Large Equine surgery centers will tell you that almost all enteroliths removed from horses' guts during colic surgery are coming from horses fed mostly or all alfalfa. The excess Calcium and Magnesium can form stones in some horses. No one has figured out which ones.

Race horses are not fed alfalfa because of the excess water it makes them drink. A horse sweats a lot more when it eats alfalfa just like it urinates a lot more. All that excess water has to go somewhere and it has to be 'carried around' until it is eliminated. Race horses cannot run fast if they are carrying around an extra 50# of water. It is the same to the stop-watch as having a 170# hockey. They instantly run slower times when eating alfalfa. The higher protein and increased water become real 'baggage' to them and race horses do not need extra baggage.
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post #17 of 21 Old 01-24-2012, 04:37 PM
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Originally Posted by smrobs View Post
But, there is a common myth that alfalfa is bad for a horse's kidneys. That's completely untrue.
I thought that was related to the high protein levels in it & have been told by nutritionists it can indeed be a problem, but generally only for older horses(who can handle even less protein) and horses who have compromised kidney function for some other reason.

Below is an article on feeding lucerne(aka alfalfa) from FeedXL...

Lucerne Hay – Friend or Foe?
Dr Nerida Richards Equilize Horse Nutrition Pty Ltd © 2009
Lucerne hay enjoys a varied reputation amongst horse people, with some using it as a highly valued component of their horse’s diet and others avoiding it with an almost religious fervour. So, who is right? Is lucerne hay a suitable forage for horses? Or are there other more suitable forages? The answer is both arguments are correct in a sense. Lucerne hay is a valuable forage for horses, but it must be fed to the right classes of horses’ and in the correct quantities for its full benefit to be realised. The following article looks at the nutrients contained in lucerne hay and its many and varied uses in the horse industry.

Nutrient profile
Good quality lucerne hay contains more protein and energy than grass or cereal hays and chaffs

Figure 1: A comparison of the digestible energy (DE), crude protein (CP), calcium (Ca), phosphorous (P) and magnesium content of early bloom lucerne hay, grass hay and oaten chaff.

(Figure 1). Lucerne also contains high concentrations of calcium and magnesium, and when fresh, the vitamins A and E. Lucerne is typically low in phosphorous and depending on where it was grown, contains varying concentrations of other micro and macro minerals. The protein in lucerne hay is of high quality and contains appreciable amounts of the essential amino acid lysine.

Given These Nutrient Characteristics, Which Horses Can Lucerne Hay Be Safely Fed To?
Lucerne hay may be fed to safely to all classes of horses, however due to its high protein and energy characteristics, it must be fed to horses in controlled quantities to prevent problems that may be caused by excess energy and protein in the diet. The suitability of lucerne hay for different classes of horses is discussed in more detail below:

1. Performance horses in training and competition
Lucerne hay can be used to contribute energy, good quality protein and a source of fibre to the diet of a performance horse; however, it must be fed in moderation. Excess protein in the diet of working horses and particularly those that are stabled can be detrimental to their health and performance. Excess protein intake will increase urinary ammonia production, which may inturn cause respiratory problems for horses confined to a stable. Excess protein can also contribute to dehydration due to water loss through increased urine production and excretion and increases the amount of heat produced during the digestion and utilisation of feedstuffs. Therefore a diet containing protein in excess of the horse’s requirement can increase the horse’s water and electrolyte loss through sweating and can contribute to hyperthermia, and decreased performance or endurance capacity.
It is important to understand that these effects are not as a direct result of feeding lucerne, but can result from feeding too much lucerne. They can be avoided by ensuring that a horse’s protein
requirement is supplied and not unnecessarily exceeded. This may involve using a grass or cereal hay to supply some of the horse’s roughage/fibre requirement.

2. Spelling or idle horses
Lucerne hay can play a role in the spelling or idle horse’s diet, and will help to supply these horses with good quality protein and calcium in their diet. However, due to its high energy content in comparison to other forages, the use of lucerne hay in spelling horse diets needs to be carefully monitored as it can lead to excess weight gain.

3. Ponies
Ponies may be safely fed lucerne hay, but again it must be fed in moderation. Lucerne hay, because of its highly digestible nature is capable of encouraging significant weight gain in ponies, particularly those that are easy keepers. Feeding too much lucerne hay may therefore predispose ponies to laminitis, as the risk of laminitis increases when ponies become overweight (again, this is not as a result of feeding lucerne, but as a result of feeding too much lucerne which in turn leads to excess weight gain).
Lucerne hay is particularly useful in the diet of aged ponies. As horses and ponies age, they lose some of their ability to digest fibre and protein. Thus feeding them an easily digested fibre and high quality protein source in the form of lucerne hay will allow them to maintain bodyweight, particularly during winter.

4. HYPP and laminitic horses
Lucerne hay may not be suitable for horses suffering with hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP) as its concentration of potassium is often quite high (14 – 25+ g/kg).
In the reverse, and contrary to popular opinion, lucerne hay is a suitable feedstuff for horses that have suffered a bout of laminitis. The high quality protein in lucerne hay will help the horse to repair its damaged laminae while the energy derived from the lucerne will prevent these horses from entering a negative energy balance, which can then slow or prevent the hoofs healing process taking place. In comparison to some grass hays, lucerne also contains a low level of starches and sugars. Again, lucerne hay must be fed in moderation to laminitic horses to prevent excess weight gain.

5. Growing Horses
Lucerne is a valuable forage in the diet of growing horses. Lucerne provides growing horses with a digestible source of energy as well as a source of high quality protein and the essential amino acid lysine. Lucerne's calcium rich characteristic is also beneficial for growing horses that typically have high calcium requirements. However, when feeding lucerne to growing horses, the amount fed should not exceed the growing horse's energy requirements. Growing horses fed energy in excess of their requirements have a much higher chance of suffering with developmental orthopaedic diseases including osteochondritis dissecans (OCD). Feeding protein in excess of the growing horse's protein requirements does not appear to be detrimental as the protein can be utilised as a source of energy. However, protein is an expensive source of energy and to quote Susan Garlinghouse "it is sort of like using bundles of dollar bills to start a barbeque. It'll get the job done, but there are much cheaper, easier and more efficient ways of doing it". Therefore, instead of using lucerne hay to meet 100% of a growing horse's energy
requirements (which will far exceed their protein requirements) it would (depending on pasture conditions) be more economical to use some form of cereal grain or high energy fibre like sugarbeet pulp or soybean hulls to provide additional energy in the diet when needed. Another point to be aware of when feeding lucerne hay to growing horses is their intake of phosphorous. While feeding lucerne hay to meet a growing horses protein requirements will also in most cases meet their calcium requirements, their phosphorous requirements will not be met. Feeding cereal grains will help to increase a growing horse's intake of phosphorous, however, in many cases, phosphorous supplementation may be required (remembering that the calcium to phosphorous ratio in the diet of a growing horse should be maintained within the range of 1: 1 to 3: 1). It also must be kept in mind that lucerne hay is not a complete feed and will more often than not contain insufficient concentrations of trace minerals and in particular copper and zinc, to support sound musculoskeletal development. Thus diets utilising lucerne hay as a protein and energy source must be balanced using an appropriate trace mineral supplement for the best results.

6. Pregnant and Lactating Mares
Lucerne hay is an exceptional source of energy and good quality protein for pregnant and lactating mares. Lucerne hay will also help to support these mares' elevated requirements for calcium and the essential amino acid lysine. When feeding the pregnant mare lucerne hay, care must be taken not to exceed her energy requirements which will then cause her to become overweight. Pregnant mares should remain within a body condition score of 5 to 7 (using the Henneke scale of condition scoring) to prevent reduced milk production during the lactation period. In the reverse, lucerne hay alone will not be capable of meeting the early lactation mare's energy requirements and may, depending on pasture conditions, need to be fed in conjunction with cereal grains to maintain body condition throughout lactation. Likewise, the lactating mares phosphorous and trace mineral requirements will not be met by a diet based on lucerne hay, thus these components must also be supplemented accordingly. As with growing horses, excess protein in the diet of pregnant and lactating mares does not appear to be harmful, however it is an unnecessary waste of this relatively expensive feed component and should be avoided if possible.

In Conclusion
Lucerne is a valuable feedstuff for horses and is capable of providing them with energy, high quality protein, lysine, calcium and varying levels of other vitamins and minerals. However, lucerne hay must be used correctly in the diets of all horses to realise its full benefits. Problems with the feeding of excess energy and protein are possible when feeding lucerne hay. However you must understand that these problems are not as a direct result of feeding lucerne hay, but rather as a result of feeding too much energy and protein in the form of lucerne hay. Using grass hays in conjunction with lucerne hay to fulfil a horse’s roughage requirement will help you to avoid some of the problems associated with feeding excess lucerne hay.
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post #18 of 21 Old 01-24-2012, 04:39 PM
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Make sure you feed the appropriate amounts (in all feeds) for your horse. Too much rich feed can cause a horse to founder...

Mudpie almost foundered when he was getting mass amounts of free choice alfalfa (because I did not know any better and was really concerned for his health/well being... turns out I almost caused a lot of damage from a little mistake)

So just be careful!!
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post #19 of 21 Old 01-24-2012, 04:40 PM
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For some reason graph didt attach(Figure 1) so I'll try to do it here...
Attached Files
File Type: doc Lucerne Hay friend or foe graph.doc (15.5 KB, 64 views)
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post #20 of 21 Old 02-01-2012, 12:36 AM
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Like someone stated before, alfalfa can be harmful if adequate water is not supplied or a horse has pre existing kidney problems. If horses are provided free choice water and have no kidney problems the best thing you can do is supply a good quality alfalfa hay. It cuts down on the amount of feed you need to feed as well. I go through about 250 lbs of alfalfa a day but my feed bill was cut in half.

Shorty * N * Opie
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