The FAQ guide on feeding Alfalfa to horses

by Jess
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The FAQ guide on feeding alfalfa to horses

Horse owners everywhere are always trying to figure out if it’s a good choice to feed alfalfa to their horses. In this article, we will answer all the common questions about giving lucerne to horses.

Let’s start by saying that alfalfa can be good for horses because of its special qualities. But whether it’s right for a horse depends on what that horse needs, like how much protein it needs and the balance of calcium and phosphorus. Here are some common questions (FAQs) about feeding alfalfa to horses:

Alfalfa or Lucerne FAQ
Lucerne or Alfalfa Field

What is alfalfa or lucerne?

Alfalfa, also known as lucerne, is a perennial flowering plant belonging to the legume family. It is commonly cultivated as a forage crop for livestock, including horses. Alfalfa is rich in nutrients, such as protein, vitamins, and minerals, making it a valuable component in the diets of many animals. Its deep root system allows it to absorb nutrients from the soil effectively, contributing to its nutritional density. Farmers often harvest lucerne as hay or silage to provide a high-quality feed source for various animals, including horses.

Alfalfa plants typically grow in clusters, forming dense, upright stems that can reach varying heights depending on factors like the age of the crop and environmental conditions. Lucerne produces clusters of small, violet to purple flowers, adding a touch of color to the field when in bloom. Often, alfalfa fields are recognized by their lush and vibrant greenery, making them a familiar sight in agricultural landscapes.

Is Alfalfa Good to Feed Horses?

Yes, alfalfa can be beneficial when fed to horses. It is a nutritious forage that provides essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals. The high protein content in alfalfa makes it particularly suitable for horses with increased energy and nutrient requirements, such as young growing horses, sport horses, lactating mares, and elderly or underweight horses. Alfalfa has a significantly lower sugar content (around 3%) compared to average hay (10-15% sugar). Even when molasses is added, the sugar content remains relatively low.

It also has a positive effect on gastric ulcers due to its structure and calcium levels.

However, the suitability of alfalfa depends on the specific needs of the individual horse, and it should be integrated into their diet in appropriate amounts to maintain a balanced nutrition profile.

Why is alfalfa considered high-quality protein?

This forage legume is often considered a high-quality protein source for horses due to several factors, including its protein content, amino acid profile, and the nature of its fiber. Alfalfa typically has a higher protein content compared to other forages, making it an excellent choice for meeting the protein needs of horses. Protein is essential for muscle development, immune function, and overall health.

It also provides a well-balanced amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and having a balanced profile is crucial for the synthesis of proteins in the horse's body. This is particularly beneficial for horses with high-performance demands, such as sport horses.

The Alfalfa plant has a finer or shorter fiber compared to some other forages like grass hay. This characteristic makes it more palatable to horses, and they tend to consume it readily. The shorter

Does alfalfa help a horse gain weight?

Alfalfa can contribute to weight gain and conditioning in horses, especially for those with increased energy and nutrient requirements. It is an excellent supplement for young growing horses, sport horses, lactating mares, and elderly or underweight horses requiring extra energy and nutrients.

Is alfalfa suitable for every horse?

With a protein content of about 16%, alfalfa is suitable for sport horses needing muscle development. For other horses, it may be excessive, and it is often mixed with chopped hay or straw to reduce protein levels. Some horses may not require the high protein levels found in alfalfa, and in such cases, a mix of alfalfa and other forages may be more suitable. Lucerne's low sugar content makes it also suitable for horses sensitive to sugars.

Alfalfa's structure encourages thorough chewing, preventing gastric ulcers. Its calcium content helps neutralize stomach acids, promoting the health of the stomach lining. This property makes lucerne an ideal ingredient for the nutrition plan of horses that suffer from gastric ulcers. Before introducing alfalfa, consider drying methods, the calcium-phosphorus ratio, and your horse's protein sensitivity. If unsure, consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist for personalized advice.

Lucerne or Alfalfa Field

Which horses benefit the most from Alfalfa?

  • Young growing horses
  • Sport horses with high energy demands
  • Lactating mares
  • Elderly and underweight horses needing extra energy and nutrients

What are the major benefits of feeding alfalfa to horses?

The benefits of feeding alfalfa to horses are numerous and include:

Help in buffering stomach acids: Alfalfa is naturally high in calcium, which acts as a buffer against stomach acids. This can help prevent or reduce the severity of gastric ulcers, a common issue in stressed or high-performance horses.

Supporting gut health: The fiber in alfalfa aids in digestion and promotes healthy gut movement. This can prevent issues like colic and impaction, which are related to poor gut motility.

Low sugar and starch content: Compared to some grass hays and feeds, alfalfa generally has lower sugar and starch content. This makes it a safer option for horses sensitive to sugars and starches or prone to laminitis.

Stimulating appetite in picky horses: The palatability of alfalfa can encourage horses to eat more, which is especially beneficial for those recovering from illness or surgery when appetite might be reduced.

High nutritional profile: Alfalfa is rich in protein, essential for muscle development and repair. It also offers a higher calorie content compared to grass hays, making it an excellent energy source for active, working horses or those needing to gain weight. This is particularly beneficial for growing young horses, lactating mares, and working horses with higher protein requirements. Despite being higher in protein, alfalfa still provides a substantial amount of fiber, important for proper digestive health in horses.

Rich in minerals & vitamins: Alfalfa is a good source of essential minerals like calcium and magnesium, crucial for bone health and overall well-being. It also contains significant amounts of Vitamin A, important for vision, growth, and immune function.

It's important to note that while alfalfa offers multiple benefits, it should be introduced gradually into the diet, and its quantity should be carefully managed, especially in horses with specific health issues. Always consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist when making significant changes to a horse's diet.

How much alfalfa to feed your horse?

The quantity of alfalfa depends on the horse's protein needs, forage content, and specific goals. For adult horses weighing 600 kg, feeding at least 1.5 - 3 kg of alfalfa per day provides additional energy and protein. Specialized supplements may be needed to balance the calcium-phosphorus ratio when larger quantities are fed.

Lucerne or Alfalfa Field

Alfalfa hay

Lucerne hay is a dried, cured, and baled type of forage. It is a popular legume forage option for horses, offering them a source of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Feeding only alfalfa hay might provide too much digestible energy, potentially leading to rapid growth and increasing the likelihood of your horse becoming hyperactive. For this reason, it is often mixed with grass hays like timothy hay. You can feed alfalfa hay in the same way as regular hay, either by placing it in hay nets or by feeding it directly on the ground. Before switching from normal hay to alfalfa hay, I recommend consulting an equine nutritionist or veterinarian.

What is Alfalfa chaff?

Alfalfa chaff is chopped or shredded alfalfa hay, sometimes mixed with other forages such as Timothy hay. Alfalfa chaff can be added to concentrate feeds, mixed with other forages, or offered as a standalone feed. It is suitable for horses that may have dental issues or difficulty chewing longer-stemmed hay.

Alfalfa pellets

Alfalfa pellets are commonly used in horse feeds, contributing valuable nutrients, fiber, and minimal sugars. Alfalfa pellets are made from dried, compressed alfalfa hay. Complete feeds already balance calcium-phosphorus ratios and provide appropriate vitamins and minerals.

Lucerne or Alfalfa Field

Where can I find Alfalfa products in the UAE?

You can find Alfalfa in the UAE in many forms and from various suppliers.

For Alfalfa hay or Alfalfa chaff (chopped), 5ivefeed offers very reasonable prices and high-quality forage. However, they do not deliver small orders, so you might need to visit one of their local stores in Dubai or place a bulk order.

At Equestri-online, you can find different products with Alfalfa:
Dodson & Horrell Alfalfa Chaff: A high-quality blend of alfalfa chaff providing slow release energy and essential protein and minerals to your horse's diet.

Dodson & Horrell Alfalfa oil plus: High-quality alfalfa chaff plus additional rapeseed oil to provide additional calories for horses in hard work, breeding, or who need extra support.

Dodson & Horrell Fibergy: Ideal for all horses and ponies in light work and those who need a lower calorie diet, Fibergy provides additional fiber without promoting excess weight gain.

At Royal Horse Boutique, you can find:

Lucerne plus: A complementary feed for horses & ponies consisting of 97% pure Dutch alfalfa and 3% linseed oil.

Digest Alfalfa Fiber Mix: Dutch Alfalfa, Grass and Timothy, mixed with linseed oil. It contains coarser alfalfa stems and the finer nutrient-rich alfalfa leaves mixed with grasses and timothy with a lower sugar-content. (same link as the Lucerne plus)

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