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Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition

   Welcome to my forum. 

Here you will find more than 6 years of questions and my answers. It is searchable and offers a great deal of information. 

Currently, I am discontinuing new questions. This may change in the future, but in the meantime, please know that It has been a true pleasure serving you. 

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 Dr. Getty 


Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition
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Follow up and question on alfalfa hay

I had posted a question in January about switching my horses to oats, beet pulp, flax seed and source. The update is my horses got skinny and I switched to a ten percent protein 6 percent fat pelleted commercial feed. I still add the flax seed and have added MSM and a feed through fly control. My gelding is looking really good.
I have also added one flake of alfalfa hay twice a day. Friends of mine who run a show barn recommended it for weight gain. My horse seems to like it and has pasture the rest of the day to graze on.
But recently I was told alfalfa was not a good hay for weight gain because it, "metabolises too fast." I always though Alfalfa was higher in protein and could make a horse "hotter" but I do not understand how it could metabolise faster. Is alfalfa a good hay to feed to help with weight? What can I tell this other person in regards to metabolising speed?
Thank you so very much.

Where are you from? Raeford, NC.

Re: Follow up and question on alfalfa hay

Hi Elnora,

There are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about alfalfa. Alfalfa is higher in protein than grass hays and the type of protein is of a higher quality than found in grass hay. Alfalfa is high in the amino acid called, “lysine,” which the horse cannot produce on his own. So, when you add alfalfa to a grass diet, you dramatically improve the quality of the protein he is consuming. This allows him to build body tissue (such as muscle mass) because he has all of the amino acids he needs.

Alfalfa does not make a horse “hot.” This is another misconception. Some horses experience mood swings because of fluctuations in blood glucose (sugar) levels. These fluctuations are caused by a high starch diet. So, if anything causes a horse to be “hot” it is a diet high in grain and sugar, such as oats, or sweet feed.

Protein is metabolized at a slower rate than carbohydrates or fat. The only way to explain this would be to go into a great deal of biochemistry. But suffice it to say, carbohydrates are digested directly down to glucose molecules, which feed the cells. Proteins (amino acids) have many pathways to enter and its metabolism is more complex.

So, to answer your question about weight gain… yes, alfalfa will help in this regard. However, I would also suggest adding a fat source. The flax seed you are feeding is fine – you may wish to add more to his diet. If you are still not seeing results, go ahead and add ¼ cup of flaxseed oil to his feed. Or, you can always purchase a commercial weight builder supplement.

Thanks so much for the update!

All the best,

Dr. Getty