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Archive for the ‘Alfalfa Hay’ Category

Friends and family around the country tell me how scarce and pricey hay is this winter. It seems like every year one section of the country has a drought or flood or something that affects or even wipes out the hay crop.

Even though good hay might be tough to find in your area, don’t be tempted to feed moldy hay to your horses.

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When shown a bale of premium hay and one of poor quality, most horsemen would have little difficulty deciding which bale they would like to take home and feed to their horses.  But since the average bale of hay has one or more defects and because the hay-buyer’s budget enters into the picture, choosing hay, in actuality, is often not so easy.  The many factors which should be considered when selecting hay all relate directly to the growing and harvesting of the hay.  Understanding the hay-making process from the ground up can help you make wise decisions when it comes to buying your winter supply of hay.

Choosing Good Quality Hay

    Good quality hay should be leafy, fine-stemmed, and adequately but not overly dry.  Since two-thirds of the plant nutrients are in the leaves, the leaf-to-stem ratio should be high.  The hay should not be brittle but instead soft to the touch, with little shattering of the leaves.  Lost leaves mean lost nutrition.  There should be no excessive moisture that could cause overheating and spoilage.

     Good quality hay should be free of mold, dust, and weeds and have a bright green color and a fresh smell.  In some instances, placing too much emphasis on color may be misleading in hay selection.  Although the bright green color indicates a high vitamin A (beta carotene) content,  some hays might be somewhat pale due to bleaching and may still be of good quality.  Bleaching is caused by the interaction of dew or other moisture, the rays of the sun, and high ambient temperatures.  Brown hay, however, indicates a loss of nutrients due to excess water or heat damage and should be avoided.

     Hay which is dusty, moldy, or musty smelling is not suitable for horses.  Not only is it unpalatable, but it can contribute to respiratory diseases.  Moldy hay can also be toxic to horses and may cause colic or abortion.  Bales should not contain undesirable objects or noxious weeds.  Check for sticks, wire, blister beetles, poisonous plants, thistle, or plants with barbed awns such as foxtail or cheat grass.

     Making premium horse hay involves a valuable balance of knowledge and skill.  From a horseman’s standpoint, there’s nothing like snipping the strings on a bale mid-winter and finding soft, green, leafy hay inside.  Horses thrive on such hay and require little, if any, grain supplementation. 


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Hi Cherry
I have a, well, almost 3 year old Quarter Horse mare. Last time I weighed her she was about 800 pounds or so. She is a small girl, about 13 hands. The lady who feeds her I think is feeding her too much (a flake of alfalfa in the morning along with some oat, and some grass and oat at night) Though I think that oat doesn’t matter- for it’s just a filler, Ive been told.
A size 32 cinch is WAY to small on my horse and barely can go around her stomach.
Though she is stalky and so is her family, is she too obese for her size? I am worried about that. Jen

Hi Jen,

I wrote requesting you send me a photo of the mare as that would be helpful in formulating an answer. Without that visual, I’m going to refer you to several articles on my website that will help you get started in evaluating your horse’s weight.

What is the correct weight of a horse?

What should this horse weigh?

How do I put my horse on a diet?

Share

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This time of year when we have brought the horses in from winter pasture and they are enjoying full service pen life, we give them a taste of alfalfa every day. I think of it more as a top-dressing on their native grass hay.

I feed each horse 1 pound of high quality alfalfa per day. I figure that’s like giving them a tonic, a vitamin pill, some extra protein and calcium without inviting problems.

Here’s a question I got from a reader that you might find interesting.

Hi Cherry,

I have an ex-reiner now roping horse, he gets bored very easily. He is constantly playing in his water (even when I work him EVERY DAY). He plays in his water and pees constantly. I do not have a pasture to put him in but I can transfer him from my arena to stall daily. He is always ruining his stall by peeing and making it a lake…what is the best bedding that lasts the longest and stays dry for a continuous pee’er?? ANY info would be appreciated…

Cheri


Dear Cheri,

As always, it is good to get your veterinarian involved in such a conversation since frequent urination is a symptom of some serious health concerns. However, I’ll try to head you in the right direction with the information you provided.

First of all, a bored horse playing in his water won’t necessarily urinate excessively. It is a horse that drinks excessively that urinates excessively. So we need to figure out why he is drinking so much.

Frequent urination in horses can be caused by many factors. Here are a few:

  • A sign of a mare being in heat. But since you say “he”, then this is not the reason.
  • A horse that has colic. But since this is a continuous symptom, it is unlikely to be colic every day !
  • A reaction to a pasture plant or weed. There are so many that could cause a horse to drink more water than normal to rid his body of toxins or other chemical compounds. I don’t have any details about your pasture but this is one area that is suspect.
  • A symptom of Cushing’s Disease or kidney or liver problems, most often in older horses. You do say this is an ex-reiner, which may mean he is older so this could also be a possibility.
  • A glucose intolerance in an older horses who after eating have increased thirst and urination. Again, if he is a senior horse, this could be an explanation.
  • A symptom of blister beetle poisoning. Horses that ingest blister beetles in their alfalfa hay and suffer toxicity show behavioral signs of repeated splashing of the muzzle in water and frequent urination, among other symptoms. However, since you say your horse does this all the time, it is unlikely that this is the cause, but for sake of completeness, I wanted to include it. But it does lead me to the final item which is most likely the culprit.
  • A symptom of a horse that is fed alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay is very high protein feed, up to 20% protein. An adult horse does not require that much protein. And in order to convert protein into an energy fuel, a horse’s digestive system has to work hard and as a result his metabolic rate and temperature rise. That means, in most cases, a loose, watery stool and a warm horse. Already I am getting thirsty.

Also, alfalfa is very high in calcium, too high to meet the ideal 2:1 Calcium:Phosphorus ratio unless you feed the horse a lot of grain (grain is high in phosphorus) to balance it out. But that would not be good.

Excess protein can lead to kidney problems and frequent urination to get rid of the excess protein in the diet. And excess calcium can lead to kidney stones.

And speaking of stones, enteroliths (intestinal stones) are directly linked to an alfalfa diet. I wonder if you live in one of these states which have a higher incidence of enteroliths and which are states where alfalfa is a common horse feed?

        • California
        • New Mexico
        • Texas
        • Florida
        • Utah
        • Arizona
        • Nevada
        • and others

Well, you can tell I am not a big fan of feeding horses alfalfa hay. Is that what you have been feeding your horse? If so, it could explain his abnormal thirst and frequent urination. If you change to a grass hay, his stall will probably no longer be a lake and you won’t have to search for that super absorbent bedding.

Best of luck,   Cherry Hill

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