Are you having trouble deciding between alfalfa hay and grass hay? Here is a little breakdown that can help –
Alfalfa hay is a legume in the pea family, not the grass family. This makes it easy to grow as it fixes nitrogen in the soil. Alfalfa hay is very rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium, along with protein. This is beneficial for horses that are ridden or worked a lot or have a high metabolism rate, but the alfalfa is best fed as only a PORTION of a balanced diet. Too much alfalfa can have toxic affects, leading to problems such as diarrhea and overheating and even kidney issues. It also has anti-thyroid principles so can be a double whammy for horses with potential thyroid issues. And some horses not only have increased energy on it, but increased irritable energy.
Grass hay, here in Arizona primarily Bermuda, cannot provide all of the nutrients a horse needs to be healthy. However, it can provide a continual source of roughage for a horse. This is particularly important in the winter as horses keep warm by generating energy so they will need to eat more roughage. Free-choice grass hay can be given instead of increasing a horse’s grain ration. The increase in grass hay should not cause digestive or metabolic shock to a horse’s system as an increase in alfalfa hay would. Grass hay is also less likely to cause weight gain, since it is lower in calories than alfalfa hay.
Some horses should not have any alfalfa hay and some will need it to maintain weight, particularly Thoroughbreds, and older horses particularly in the colder months. The best option is to combine legumes and grasses as needed to maintain proper weight for a healthy horse. This gives a good balance of minerals and energy sources for the average horse.
A regional chelated mineral mix and natural salt source are recommended for all horses as well as access to plenty of fresh clean water.