Alfalfa/lucerne - the cons
This is an interesting read about the cons of feeding alfalfa/lucerne and too much protein in general - Why I don’t feed alfalfa … I can’t afford it!
The only problem with the article is a lot of horses live on alfalfa and do fine. And most modern folks live on a diet that is too high in protein, and we digest it fine. Nor do horses need to be constantly eating to avoid colic. Mine get grass hay, but they are largely finished in 90 minutes. They get fed 3 times a day. Mia used to colic when we first got her, then stopped after a year. We chalk that up to how extremely nervous she was about everything. Since then, no colic for her, and none at all ever for the 2 geldings. They get psyllium one week a month to prevent sand colic, since they also eat off the dirt.
I suspect it helps that they live together and move around constantly in their corral. They do get alfalfa in the form of pellets. As we start the winter, we've shifted one of their grass hay feedings to alfalfa. Again, we do this every winter and they are all healthy as horses, as the saying goes. I know horses who eat only alfalfa, and I know of some folks who only feed hay pellets.
The problem with a lot of nutritional theories is that they contradict what I see with my eyes...
The article failed to mention that all alfalfa is not the same. Protein content depends on growth stage when cut.
Where I am decent alfalfa is certainly not cheaper.
In a perfect year I would be feeding 50/50 alfalfa-grass. This is not a perfect year so the alfalfa is now at a minimum & it shows on the horses. I had to increase the grain amount to keep nice top lines on the old ones & avoid big bellies on everyone.
Horse urine should be clear? Sometimes it looks clear from a distance but the very nature of horse urine is cloudy & gritty. A vet told me that if people had urine like horses we would be screaming every time we voided & as I've seen lots urine specimens I have to agree.
If alfalfa caused kidney problems & stones wouldn't those problems be the norm rather than the exception?
Like bsms, I believe what I see.
I guess it's just dumb luck that all the horses in the west are still standing.
The highest incidence of stones is in Louisiana. I bet those horses don't eat one mouthful of alfalfa in their lives. No one addresses that.
I my ideal world, I would be feeding 50/50 alfalfa/grass hay. In my non-ideal world, I am currently feeding straight alfalfa. Why? Because the quality is wonderful and the price is right. Not that it is cheap, I think we have the second highest hay prices in the country next to California. No hay is "cheap" here. But I get the most bang for my buck with alfalfa.
To get decent grass hay, I would either have to buy small bales that are shipped in from Colorado, which is significantly more expensive than alfalfa, or buy bermuda, which is also significantly more costly than alfalfa and the quality is iffy. I hate paying more money for worse hay.
Also, I can get alfalfa all over the place. Bermuda I have to seek out. My local feedstore where I buy my hay quit stocking bermuda on their hay trailer because very few people buy it. If I want it, he can get it for me, but I really like to see what I'm buying first.
So I guess what I am saying is, grass hay is not impossible to get but you are paying a lot more money for iffy quality. I do intend to get some bermuda at some point and start feeding it 50/50 with alfalfa because I have a young horse that I am riding and he doesn't need to be bouncing off the walls. But I might end up waiting for spring to do that.
I would love to feed more grass hay, but I hate paying more for lesser quality hay. And by lesser quality I mean dusty/musty/garbage in it. Not all the bermuda is like that, but probably at least 1/2 the bales I have fed have been extremely dusty if nothing else. I can find beautiful alfalfa at every place that sells feed in town. Sad but true! Such is life in Arizona.
Believe me, I would love to be feeding a lovely grass hay or grass/alfalfa mix.
I prefer alfalfa that is over one year old, like I have in my barn from the bales leftover from last winter. Hay loses protein and nutrition for up to about one year. After that the nutrition remains the same as long as it is stored correctly. I have been topdressing with alfalfa for the past few cold days for my horse's evening feedings. They've all been gobbling up the grass hay, too. I find stalls empty of hay in the morning and my grass bales are ~65 pounders. I feed my 1,000 lb gelding 6 flakes/day, my 1,200 lb mare 6-7 flakes/day and my 1,450 lb gelding 7-8 flakes/day.
If I can find straight alfalfa square bales next Spring that weren't sold, I'm going to buy them. Hard to say, bc 2013 started off too wet for an early cutting, so most has been sold.
Interesting article. I have next to no knowledge about enteroliths. I wonder whether it is something about the excessive calcium causing the magnesium to bind up in such a way... Cherie also recently had some interesting information on problems associated with excess protein, be that from lucerne or otherwise. Was in a thread on colic.
I think it's a case of everything in moderation & understanding the importance of a balanced diet. The article is talking of feeding it straight, I take that to mean as the sole forage.
Eg what does 'do fine' mean? That they reliably live into their 30s(if human, hopefully a bit older!) with no health problems that could possibly be attributed to too much protein or other nutrient imbalance? And just because feeding horses infrequent meals rather than little & often doesn't always cause colic, doesn't mean that it is 'safe' & problem free, that it is not a contributor or cause of colic or other gut problems. I think the common evidence far & away outweighs any claims of infrequent feeding to be healthy & problem free.
[QUOTE=bsms;4276769]The only problem with the article is a lot of horses live on alfalfa and do fine. And most modern folks live on a diet that is too high in protein, and we digest it fine. Nor do horses need to be constantly eating to avoid colic. Mine get grass hay, but they are largely finished in 90 minutes.
My horses are on grass alfalfa mix hay more alfalfa then grass. Alot of farmers around here think alfalfa is bad for horses so dont like to sell it to horse people.
My horses do fine on hay they are fed i do find they drink more water with the higher alfalfa hay though. Horses do need to be eating constantly to avoid issues with ulcers. My horses are on a high protein diet and i see no ill effects the hay i feed it at 20% protien.
I also know others who feed straight alfalfa hay with no ill effects their horses are the picture of health. My horses have hay 24/7 i put it out once a day, to last till next day...to bloody cold to be messing with it twice a day.
"And just because feeding horses infrequent meals rather than little & often doesn't always cause colic, doesn't mean that it is 'safe' & problem free, that it is not a contributor or cause of colic or other gut problems. I think the common evidence far & away outweighs any claims of infrequent feeding to be healthy & problem free."
In the majority of studies I've been able to find, the infrequent feeding usually involves feeding grain or concentrates, which would have a different impact than feeding some form of hay. However, the large number of healthy, long-lived horses in southern Arizona, virtually all of which have no access to pasture and most of which eat some amount of alfalfa, certainly DOES indicate that eating alfalfa or not having pasture is not harmful to horses.
Like most mammals, horses adapt. And in fact, most horses are the result of my years of selective breeding, including the ability to live on infrequent meals. In southern Arizona, it is very rare for a horse to have access to pasture. That they live fine - ie, healthy and long - is a pretty significant data point in figuring out if horses gain significant health benefits from pasture grazing.
Humans arguably did not evolve to eat 3 meals a day. There is nothing even remotely natural about the American diet, yet we are living much longer and staying in reasonable health much longer than our ancestors.
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