The role of alfalfa in horse feeding redefined

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 14, 2005
by WLJ
Alfalfa is a high quality, highly digestible feed for horses, but so many myths surround its use that many of the nation's horse owners either underutilize or misuse it. A concise, scientifically based, user-friendly publication by the National Alfalfa Alliance clarifies to owners of horses how to match the characteristics of alfalfa hay to the age, class and activity level of their equines.
"Alfalfa: The High-quality Hay for Horses" was written by University of Idaho Extension forage specialist Glenn Shewmaker, University of Wisconsin forage agronomist Dan Undersander, and University of Kentucky equine nutritionist Laurie Lawrence and Extension forage specialist Garry Lacefield.
"There's a lot of information out there about feeding alfalfa hay to horses but it's almost entirely anecdotal," said Shewmaker. "We use science, rather than myth, to guide the use of alfalfa products for varying needs of horses."
Lacefield calls the publication an attempt to bring the "best scientific information on feeding alfalfa to horses into one aesthetically pleasing publication that is applicable from Florida to New York to California."
It includes easy-to-use tables of example diets for recreational horses, lactating mares, weanlings, yearlings and horses that perform moderate or intense work. "People generally believe that all hay is the same," says Lawrence. "They don't realize that different horses have different requirements for different kinds of hay."
In Wisconsin, Undersander notes that appropriate use of alfalfa will "save costs for owners as well as provide good nutrition and horse health."
The publication describes the horse's digestive system and the specific nutritional needs of mature horses used for recreational activities, broodmares, growing horses and performance horses. It explains how growth stages of alfalfa affect forage quality, discusses how alfalfa hay is classified, defines terms used to describe alfalfa characteristics and quality, and reviews several types of forage products. In addition, it addresses preservatives and blister beetles as well as buying, transporting and storing alfalfa hay.
According to Shewmaker, the publication's target audience includes equestrians, small ranch owners, hay producers and hay marketers. Even owners of large horse operations should find it useful in finetuning their feed economics.
Single copies of the 12-page publication can be downloaded from the NAA's Web site at, and multiple copies can be purchased in lots of 25 for $50, plus shipping and handling. — WLJ