Equine Nutrition – Pros And Cons Of Feeding Your Horse Alfalfa

If you ask most horses they will tell you that alfalfa is a wonderful horse feed. Most horses love this leafy, green hay. Experts in horse nutrition recognize alfalfa as a high protein, mineral rich forage but few look at the energetic properties of this hay for horses. Alfalfa has a neutral thermal nature which means it does not create a heating or cooling effect in the body. It has a bitter flavor which helps detoxify the body. Alfalfa dries excess dampness in the body. Excess dampness in the body creates and environment that supports the growth of molds, yeast, and parasites.


Horse Nutrition: Alfalfa hay for horses supports a healthy intestine and removes excess acids from the blood. Alfalfa buffers stomach acid for up to 6 hours after it is consumed which makes it an ideal horse feed for working horses subject to stomach ulcers. Fresh alfalfa hay contains enzymes which help break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Older horses with bad teeth can benefit from these enzymes even if they just mouth the hay but don’t actually swallow it.

Horse Nutrition: Alfalfa hay for horses is a very rich horse feed containing ample protein, beta carotene, chlorophyll and trace minerals. The roots of the alfalfa plant can reach 100 feet into the ground so it can reach minerals that are absent in shallow soils. Alfalfa is also rich in vitamin k and bioflavonoids. The high levels of calcium in alfalfa make it a valuable horse feed for mares in late pregnancy and early lactation.

Horse Nutrition: The high levels of protein, calcium, and simple sugars in alfalfa can be a disadvantage if it is not balanced out with less nutritious foods that contain phosphorous. Alfalfa is not a good feed for growing horses as it will allow them to grow too rapidly and bone development can be affected by the imbalance of calcium and phosphorous. Horses who are overweight and not in work can gain additional weight and develop behavior problems relating to excess energy. The high levels of calcium in alfalfa can lead to the formation of enteroliths in the intestines of some horses. Feeding apple cider vinegar will help prevent stone formation if alfalfa is the only hay available.

Horse Nutrition: Pros of alfalfa as a horse feed

Very nutritious

Contains enzymes which aid in assimilation of protein, fats, and carbohydrates

High in calcium, beta carotene, chlorophyll, vitamins and trace minerals

Buffers stomach acid

Detoxifies the blood

Horse Nutrition: Cons of alfalfa as a horse feed

Too nutritious for non-working horses

Excess energy content and mineral imbalance not good for growing horses

Enterolith formation in the intestines of some horses

Overall the pros of alfalfa as a horse feed outweigh the disadvantages but its high nutrient content makes if unsuitable for most non-working horses. Fresh alfalfa hay is the best to use as a horse feed. Good alfalfa hay for horses should be leafy, with minimum stems and bright green in color. Poor quality alfalfa may be used for pellets and any pelleting will destroy much of the whole food value of alfalfa while maintaining the high protein levels. Concentrated high levels of protein can lead to kidney stress. If you choose to feed alfalfa always keep in mind that a little bit goes a long and don’t overfeed it.

Written By, Madelyn Ward, DVM.  Source: holistichorsekeeping.com.  Share this on Facebook if you enjoy learning about Equine Nutrition!

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