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

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Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition
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Transition grass hay to alfalfa pellets

I have a 7 year old dressage horse, worked 6 days a week. He is currently on Grass. He was previously on a grain hay which affected him in a way that he would spook and over react at nothing. Since moving him from the grain hay to grass hay there has been a profound difference. No more spooking and over reacting. In fact the change in behavior was dramatic and occured in less that 2 weeks and has never returned. He is supplimented with a pelleted rice bran, Strategy (oat based grain), competitive advantage and misc supplements and corn oil, none of which has resulted in the prior bad behavior brought on my the feeding of grain hay. I am looking at a boarding facility that feeds only alfalfa pellets rather than a hay source. Will this transisiton to alfalfa result and a once again spookey and over-reactive horse?

Does the affect that alfalfa hay has on some horse to make them hot/high get diminished when pelleted?


Where are you from? San Jose, California

How did you locate this forum? Google Search

Re: Transition grass hay to alfalfa pellets

Hi Veronica,

The reason the grain hay had an effect on his behavior is likely due to its very high starch content. Many horses have a behavioral response to high starch diets due to changes in blood sugar levels.

But, this situation is very different than the one you are proposing. I'm not clear why you would consider eliminating grass hay and replacing it with alfalfa pellets. This is not a wise decision. First, alfalfa pellets, or any pellets for that matter, cannot replace eating hay. They do not have enough fiber to replace hay consumption. And they are consumed too quickly to be safe for free choice consumption (can cause choke and colic).

Secondly, 100% alfalfa is not desirable and can be dangerous. Alfalfa is very high in protein, and while I recommend adding some alfalfa (say 30%) to the diet to improve protein quality, too much alfalfa can lead to kidney and liver damage, and enteroliths.

Your horse needs hay, all the hay he wants, and alfalfa pellets can be added to the diet as a meal to improve the diet. But, they should not be considered as the only forage source.

Your horse's behavior was due to starch, not protein. Alfalfa is not the problem, grain was. And you eliminated that issue when you removed the majority of grain from his diet. You're still feeding some cereal grain (the oats in Strategy) which may be fine if he has the caloric need. But, too much (from grain hay) was obviously an issue.

So, my recommendation.... stick with grass hay, and add some commercial feed and alfalfa pellets to meet his energy (from exercise) needs. If this barn only feeds alfalfa pellets, and there is no pasture, then I strongly suggest finding another barn.

All the best,

Dr. Getty

Where are you from? Bayfield, CO