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Alfalfa vs. Grass: What’s a Horse Owner to Do?

Ask any horse owner what they feed their horses and you will likely get a variety of answers. Some horse owners swear by grass, others by alfalfa and still others believe in a combination of the two.

There is no easy—or right answer—to which hay is best for horses. Much of it depends on the age, breed and activity level of the horse in question. Alfalfa hay has a higher protein content so it is a good choice for hard working horses but may be too rich for an older, less active horse.

As grazers, horses eat small amounts of food throughout the day. This food should be roughage or hay. Roughage is the most important part of a horses’ diet since it provides all everything horses need in terms of nutrition.

In spite of its many nutritional benefits, alfalfa hay is often considered a poor choice for horse feed. There are a few reasons for this. Many horse owners believe that it makes their horses too hot and that its calcium to phosphorus ration is too high. These beliefs are often more a function of how alfalfa is fed to a horse than the alfalfa itself because alfalfa should be fed in smaller quantities than grass hay.

Smaller quantities of alfalfa meet protein and nutritional requirements. Therefore, horses can get the necessary nutritional requirements from alfalfa but may still not feel full. This can lead to giving horses too much food and energy, causing them to hot.

While alfalfa may be richer feed, it doesn’t mean it is higher in carbohydrates than grass. Quite the opposite is actually true. This makes alfalfa a good option for horses with conditions such as insulin resistance and laminitis.

Grass hay, on the other hand, is a good option for filling horses up while meeting their nutritional needs. Its lower levels of protein and calcium make it a good choice for horse feed. Grass also has more carbohydrates than alfalfa. This makes it much more risky to feed overweight horses or those dealing with laminitis. In such cases, grass hay would be downright dangerous.

So what does all this mean? As is often the case, moderation is key. There are advantages and disadvantages to both alfalfa and grass and often times a blend of the two is the best way to feed your horse.

Posted By: The Hay Manager

Posted on: 09/30/2016
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