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Is Alfalfa Hay Good for Horses?

Is Alfalfa Hay Good for Horses?

In some parts of the US, alfalfa is a very widespread plant. As a result, it becomes a choice of feed for many horse owners. As for other parts of the country, where alfalfa hay is not readily available, horse owners usually purchase it for horses who have high nutritional needs. You could also choose the right cutting, mix alfalfa and grass hay for feed, or store it in your barn for colder seasons. So, what are the benefits of alfalfa hay for horses, and what types of horses is it best for? Keep reading to find out.

Using alfalfa can give your horses more calories and nutrients in the feed
Using alfalfa can give your horses more calories and nutrients in the feed

Who Is Alfalfa Hay for?

High-quality alfalfa hay is leafy, bright in color, and has a sweet smell that attracts horses. It is a source of minerals, vitamins, protein, and other nutrients beneficial for horse health and optimal performance. Alfalfa does not have a heating or cooling effect because of its neutral thermal nature. It also helps remove toxins from the body. Not every horse will benefit from including alfalfa in the diet equally. Here are the types of horses that alfalfa would be best for:

  • Growing horses. For horses at the stage of growth, alfalfa is a good choice. When including it in the feed, keep in mind that it provides more energy to the animals. Thus, you will need less alfalfa compared to other kinds of hay to meet the energy needs of yearlings, weanlings, and other young horses.
  • Hard keepers. If your horses struggle with gaining weight, even if there seems to be no health issue behind this problem, then adding alfalfa could help. It adds more calories to their diets naturally, because it has higher energy density compared to other types of forage, and is a source of high-quality nutrition.
  • Lactating mares. Milk production is very taxing on the animal’s body. As a result, lactating mares and broodmares as well need additional sources of energy. Giving them alfalfa will help them maintain a good condition of the body and produce more milk of high quality.
  • Performance horses. Horses who do heavy and demanding labor cannot maintain optimal weight on grass hay. Alfalfa will provide the boost of calories and energy that these horses need the most. Exercising horses will also benefit from eating alfalfa due to its high protein content as well.
Alfalfa is best for horses with high nutrient needs
Alfalfa is best for horses with high nutrient needs

Benefits of Alfalfa Hay

Horses typically enjoy alfalfa. But if your animals have never eaten it before, it might take some time getting used to, just like with any new food. Here are some benefits of alfalfa hay you should know. This will help you decide whether it is a good choice of feed for your horse’s diet.

Easy to Digest

Many horses have digestive problems at different stages of life because their digestive systems are very sensitive. So, if you have not had a problem with your animals, then you are fortunate. Many horses have colics that could even lead to more severe cases needing surgery. While alfalfa might not solve the problem, it offers a good choice of feed that is easier to digest. Vets even suggest feeding it to horses who recently had colic surgery and cannot eat grains. So mixing in some alfalfa in the food could help prevent digestive upset. Apart from that, a study has found that feeding alfalfa hay to young horses in training could help prevent gastric ulcers. Choose any type of alfalfa hay. In a study, it was shown that its digestion in its loose form, wafers, or pellets was not different among horses.

High in Calories

Compared to grass from pasture or grass hay, alfalfa has 20-25% more calories per pound. So, if you have horses whose energy needs are higher, for example, if they are competing or performing heavy work, then this hay would be the most suitable for them. Apart from that, lactating horses, pregnant mares, and horses at any age that find it hard to gain weight will also benefit from eating alfalfa. For horses who do not eat much grass, mix in some alfalfa, and this will help meet their energy needs.


Alfalfa is widely available across the US, so you can easily find it and order hay from any supplier. However, make sure to choose only trusted suppliers for your hay because the origin of alfalfa matters. In the south and west of the US, alfalfa flowers attract blister beetles that could leave a very dangerous toxin on the plants. When alfalfa is sold in cubes or pellets, this is not an issue, but buying hay in its loose form could create a problem if you are unsure about its origins.

Rich in Nutrients

Apart from providing extra calories, alfalfa also has high nutritional value. Depending on the maturity stage of the hay, it can contain 13-21% of protein. As a result, it is perfect for horses with higher nutrition needs, such as lactating or pregnant mares, growing horses, or competing horses. Besides protein, alfalfa is also rich in calcium and vitamins, so compared to grass hay, it provides more abundant and more varied nutrition in horses’ diets.

Evaluate the diet of your horses and add alfalfa to match their energy demands
Evaluate the diet of your horses and add alfalfa to match their energy demands

Other Things You Should Know About Alfalfa Hay for Horses

Alfalfa hay for horses is an excellent source of protein and calories, but not all horses have high nutritional requirements. When you feed alfalfa hay to horses that do not exercise, they cannot burn the excess calories they receive from the feed. As a result, they tend to become overly energetic. If you want to avoid giving your horses excess energy, then consider their existing diet and introduce alfalfa hay to match their needs.

For growing horses, alfalfa hay should provide adequate calories, protein, and other nutrients. Hay high in protein is essential at the growth stage for optimal health and development of foals. Some people believe that excess protein at this stage in life could cause problems for growing foals, which is incorrect. Foals need dietary crude protein for healthy bone metabolism and other functions of the body. Alfalfa hay is very nutritious, rich in calcium, protein, and other nutrients necessary for horse health. It seems that this type of feed is a better choice for horses at the stage of growth or lactation. However, it exceeds the nutritional needs of other horses. 

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