Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reader Question on Feeding Alfalfa Pellets

I received this question via e-mail from Savony. ”Functional Horseman, I've watched your videos on feeding horses. Thanks you very much. (My question is) Sometimes I have a hard time buying hay. Sometimes the feed store is even out of the hay. One of my friends told me to feed alfalfa pellets and to replace the hay pound for pound with the alfalfa pellets. What do you think?”

Savony, this is a timely e-mail question. I recently responded to friends of mine who ran out of hay was feeding solely alfalfa pellets and their horse started exhibiting signs of colic or gut distress.  He was feeding his horse alfalfa pellets dry (without soaking them in water) and made his change overnight, without a gradual introduction to the change.     

You can certainly augment your horses daily feed with a ration of alfalfa pellets or cubes. I would do several things to reduce associated problems.

One – integrate the new feed gradual like. If you feed 20 lbs of hay one day, then on the next, you substitute the hay with 20 lbs of pellets you’ll probably have problems. I would start with one half pound per day and build up from here, however my bias is to not feed more than a few pounds, maybe 3 or 4 pounds maximum, of pelleted/cubed feed at any one time. Although, most of the pelleted feed manufacturers will have their  feeding directions on the bags and these will generally advise to feed 1.5 to 2 lbs of pellets or cubes per 100 lbs of body weight or 20 lbs a day divided up into 10 lb feedings, given twice a day. I would not do this. If I had to feed pelleted feed alone, then I would feed smaller amounts more often through the day.

Two – I would soak the alfalfa pellets in water prior to feeding. Put Alfalfa pellets in a bucket, pour water to cover, let stand a few minutes, drain excess water then feed. It’ll probably look like mush but this will help the horse chew it and reduce chances of choke where larger pellet pieces get stuck in the esophagus. If your horse gets choke, and you’ll know it, remove all feed, call your vet, keep the horse’s head down to drain mucous from the nose and if you see a lump in the esophagus when you may be able to massage it down the throat.

Three – feed a pelleted feed with a small percentage of protein. Alfalfa hay is around 18 – 22 % protein. Horses don’t need that much protein. That's why I feed both Alfalfa Hay and Grass Hay (10% protein).  I also feed a pelleted feed, with 12% protein, and only feed a small amount to supplement their hay. A horse really needs long stem hay for their fiber needs. Another problem with feeding pelleted feeds is that, if soaked and it should be soaked, the horse easily crushes the wet cubes and this may not satisfy the horses chewing needs. You may see more cribbing.

So in summary Savony, you sure could substitute the pelleted feed for hay, but do it gradually; be sure to soak it prior to feeding; give a smaller amounts more often; watch your horses for changes in their body condition and any sign of problems. You are not the only one having problem finding hay. A lot of people are either/or having a harder time getting hay or paying through the nose for it and have decided to reduce hay usage through the feeding of pelleted feeds. Safe Journey.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know that alfalfa feed had so much protein in it. It makes sense that you would want a alfalfa with less protein. There is a definite art to the supplementing process. Thanks for sharing. http://midwayforage.com/select-way-premium-alfalfa-cubes.html