Heâ€™s about 1100 pounds, heâ€™s currently getting 2 flakes of alfalfa AM/PM and a flake of orchard for lunch. Iâ€™m undecided if I should feed him 1 Orchard, 1 Alfalfa AM/PM and orchard for lunch still. Heâ€™s a pretty easy keeper.
Why is an "easy keeper" getting alfalfa? Alfalfa is high in calories (along with calcium).
What kind of work does he do?
What is his turnout like?
If you really want to do it right, test your forage (Equi-Analytical is good) and fill in the gaps. There are nutritionists that can help you or you can learn yourself.
The next best thing would be to feed a No Added Iron supplement, unless you KNOW you are iron deficient (very rare) with a low ESC+Starch and NSC carrier (such as beet pulp, Stabul 1, timothy pellets, etc.), and grass hay. You Agricultural Extension Office should be able to help you.
You need to know about selenium levels, too. Selenium is a micro-mineral (think MILIgrams (1,000th of a gram) and you only need about 1 (min) - 5 (max, endurance/performance horses) mg. You 1,100 guy probably needs about 1.5 - 3, depending in exercise. Some places have plenty and added selenium would lead to toxicity. Some places have none (like my area), so I need to supp.
The next, next best thing would to be feed a commercial ration balancer (such as Triple Crown 30%, Purina Enrich, Tribute K, etc..) and grass hay.
Horses need ROUGHLY about 2% (1,100 * .02 = 22 lbs) of their current body weight or 1.5% in their ideal body weight (if he is a fatty) in forage (hay/grass) a day - give of take. You weigh dry. How big is a "flake?" Some people's "flakes" are less than 5 lbs. Other people's "flakes" are literally half the bale . O.O
Ditto to the above. I'd go easy on the alfalfa & feed predominantly grass hay, esp if he's an 'easy keeper'. Low sugar(rather than 'improved' pasture types like cattle fattening rye) grasses are best generally.
Is he on grazing, or is the hay his entire diet? How much does it weigh? Does he eat it all & then go hungry for a time between 'meals', or does he still have some left when you refill? Do you feed in a small holed net, so it lasts longer? I use nets, for one to reduce wastage & the horse trashing it, but also to slow consumption, so they don't eat so much(mine being easy keepers too) and yet don't ever go hungry. Not good for horses to go hungry for extended periods, they should always have something in their stomach.
He will likely be imbalanced/deficient in some nutrients at least, on that diet, but as Wumbo said, you need to know what he IS getting to really know what's best to supplement. So hay analysis is the best bet. But the local feed or ag advisors in your area may be able to give you a fair idea of what's likely, so you can work out what's best to supplement with. There's also a program/service called FeedXL.com that are a great help for working out the 'balancing act' of nutrition. Their service costs(& depending on specifics can be exxy) but they're offering a free trial of their 'basic' plan ATM - this is quite basic, lacking lots of detail of their paid options but is a good 'taster' of their service & will give you a better idea at least.
So I disagree with the idea that an easy keeper shouldn’t be getting alfalfa. Many people do not realize the grass actually tends to be higher in sugars but also more of a filler calorie. Alfalfa is perfectly safe to feed an easy keeper in moderation. There is much more scientifically that goes into the effects and reasoning for keeping alfalfa in a horses diet.
I’d like to see pictures, however, as long as he isn’t obese I wouldn’t change your feed program. I have an “easy keeper” on 3flakes alfalfa and 3flakes bermuda in a slow feed net and she does perfect on this diet. She was supposedly free fed alfalfa before I purchased her with no I’ll effects. The only not forage she gets is 2qts triple crown complete to mix in her horseguard trifecta which covers joint, gut, vitamins and minerals and hoof and hair
Nothing wrong with alfalfa. If you want to mix it with grass hay that is fine. Feed your alfalfa in the morning and your grass hay at night. You do want to make sure you are not getting dairy cow hay , as it is far to rich for a horse. You can feed wheat bran when you feed alfalfa but it is not recommended with grass hay. Alfalfa is great for horses with ulcers. Alfalfa is lower in sugars and should be a 2:1 calc/phos. ratio . Most places do not test hay. You never want more than 17% protein, horses do best around a 14% protein. I have raised young horses on straight alfalfa and they are all good sound horses, Even my Draft mixes.
Alfalfa is a great feed ingredient IMO. It is high energy feed though. It can indeed be problematic to feed already overweight horses. 'In moderation' is the key - what's that, to a horse who is already getting too many calories??
It's also a legume, which can be a prob for some horses due to the phyto hormones in it. It's also rather rich in protein & imbalanced nutritionally to give as a sole or large part of the ration. Not that grass isn't often quite imbalanced nutritionally too(sodium & iron are way high in our native grass here for eg), and whatever you feed it's best to do an analysis then work out what's needed to balance the diet.
Alfalfa is, however, generally a fair bit lower in sugars than grass hay & I've heard of vets recommending it to laminitic fatties for that reason. IME it is not good in that situation, for above reasons. Care should be taken however, that these horses also aren't fed 'improved', sugary grass/hay, and if they're 'at risk', only tested low sugar hay should be fed, or, if that's impossible, hay should be soaked & drained, to leach out excess sugars.
Personally, I started having problems with two of my horses when I started feeding alfalfa. I thought it would be good because it is lower in sugars than grass hay. At this point, I think that there is a little more to it than just sugars. It's calcium to phosphorus ratio is very imbalanced and it is high in Fe, among other things.
Two of my mares start looking bloated, lumpy necks, and laminitic lines on their hooves when they are eating any food with soy or alfalfa hay. One mare doesn't have any problem with these that I can tell. All three are now fed a mixture of timothy, orchard, and a small amount of coastal and they are looking great. They eat free choice and are maintaining a good weight. Not too fat and not too thin. They have glossy coats, healthy feet, and seem happy, relaxed and cheerful.
Grass hay depending on type and when cut is 850 to 900 calories per pound. Alfalfa is between 900 and 950. Even between lowest grass and highest alfalfa there is negligible difference in calories. Even with giving 20 pounds over the course of the day the difference is roughly 2,000 calories. For a horse that needs 25,000 a day not much. Protein differences can be significant as well as quality of protein. Alfalfa is also heavy on calcium and needs a phosphorus source fed to balance it.