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Why do we avoid Alfalfa?

Alfalfa, sometimes known as Lucerne, is considered quite low in sugar so it’s often deemed as suitable to feed. We however don’t recommend that Alfalfa is used, particularly if you have a compromised or metabolic horse with conditions like Laminitis and EMS.

More than often, we see horse’s walking a fine line between ‘functional’ and very sick. This normally looks like a horse that is yet to suffer from an acute attack of Laminitis yet is struggling with low grade pain, stiffness, obesity and EMS symptoms. This can also look like a grass affected horse with increasingly bad anxiety and explosive behaviour that is yet to be labelled ‘dangerous’. When the likes of Alfalfa are then introduced, this is normally what tips the horse over the edge.

Although Alfalfa is lower in sugar than many bagged feeds and therefore recommended for Laminitics, it does not make it suitable to feed a compromised horse. Most horses in the UK are kept in paddocks and have access to unsuitable grass, which can often result in problems around gut health, metabolic status, hoof health or behaviour.

Sub-clinical Laminitis, EMS and various grass affected issues are just a few of the more common conditions we see as a result of inappropriate diet and management, which can sometimes go unnoticed. Although a healthy, fit and uncompromised horse on a grass-free track system may cope with a small amount of Alfalfa, horses kept in more traditional settings that don’t support their need for a low sugar, low potassium and high fibre diet, will most likely struggle with the addition of Alfalfa.

Alfalfa has the same nutritional profile as short green grass, being high in potassium and crude protein. Jenny Paterson of Calm Healthy Horses explains:

“The ‘true protein’ component of the crude protein is a good source of protein for some horses but the NPN (Non-Protein Nitrogen) component does have an undesirable feature – nitrates accumulate in the leaves rather than the stems. In grass the nitrates are mainly located in the lower regions of the plant. The horse’s mono-gastric digestive system is NOT equipped to process nitrates so when feeding horses, nitrate ingestion needs to be MINIMISED to lessen the possibility of serious digestive and other issues developing.”

If you’re in the UK and are in search of safe feed, we thoroughly recommend Thunderbrook. We use a variation of their feed for our golden oldies, in work horses and those with an array of medical conditions.

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