Although it often gets a bad reputation, alfalfa is a great source of nutrition for many horses. Generally, it is a lower sugar/starch (NSC) forage with higher levels of essential nutrients, including amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Performance horses and harder-keepers, even some metabolic horses, can benefit from some alfalfa in their diet.
Contrary to common beliefs, alfalfa is not typically a source of “hot” energy that is known to make a horse more excitable or hyperactive. It was long perceived that high protein levels made horses more hyperactive, which is not accurate. Sources of “hot” energy that do have this effect on horses include non-structural carbohydrates, sugar and starch. Alfalfa tends to have lower sugar and starch levels than grass-type forages, such as timothy, orchard grass or bermuda. Although not appropriate for all horses, alfalfa inclusion in hay can help lessen the amount of sugar and starch in hay, making it a great option for horses with sugar and starch sensitivities. Please note that we rarely recommend feeding a 100% pure alfalfa forage diet to horses - you can read more on that in our alfalfa article.
Alfalfa meal is an ingredient included in many premium horse feeds, including Tribute®’s. It is an excellent source of fiber for horses!
Overweight horses, or horses prone to becoming overweight (such as miniature horses) generally should not be fed alfalfa. If being fed to young, growing horses, extra caution must be taken to ensure calcium and phosphorus balances stay correct to prevent growth and developmental issues. When a forage program is greater than 50% alfalfa (or other legume, such as clover), we recommend Alfa Growth® or Alfa Essentials® be fed for a properly balanced diet.
We are often asked when to feed Alfa Essentials® versus Essential K®. When a forage program is primarily grass-based hay (or pasture), we recommend feeding Essential K®. When a forage program is primarily legume-based, we recommend feeding Alfa Essentials®. When a forage program is split 50/50 grass and alfalfa, Essential K® is generally recommended and any higher than 50% alfalfa, Alfa Essentials® is recommended.
Alfa Essentials® is a ration balancer, generally recommended for overweight or easier-keeping horses being fed mostly alfalfa forage. It can also be fed to broodmares and young, growing horses. Alfa Growth® is designed for pregnant and lactating broodmares, as well as young, growing horses at least 3 months of age. Alfa Growth® provides a higher amount of calories for horses that require extra calories in their diet to maintain body condition.