There are several opinions regarding the safety of feeding miniature horses alfalfa, and it can be hard to dig through everyone’s ideas to get to the truth. The best thing for you and your mini is for you to educate yourself on this legume so you understand the potential risks and rewards of feeding it to your four-legged friend.
Alfalfa is full of vitamins and nutrients, making it an excellent forage to add to your mini’s diet. However, some miniature horses could suffer from it. The key is in knowing who it can hurt, who it can help, and how to balance it well for your mini.
Rarely is something all good or all bad. Instead, everything has its ups and its downs- its risks and rewards. Alfalfa certainly fits the bill. For some, it can provide remarkable benefits. For others, it can cause insufferable pain. Let’s get a closer look at who it can help and who it might hurt so you can make the best choice for your mini.
Some of the most common benefits of alfalfa include:
High in Protein
- Alfalfa is an excellent source of protein, which horses need to:
- Grow and repair muscle tissue
- Form the skeletal system properly
- Create enzymes and hormones a horse needs for the immune system
- Have energy needed for daily activities
High in Vitamin K
Vitamin K is important for horses as it makes the blood clot properly and reduce the risk of hemorrhages.
Great Source of Calcium
Horses need calcium just like humans do for strong bones and teeth. Calcium is also imperative for muscle function and enzyme regulation.
The following are two of the most common risks associated with feeding horses alfalfa.
Protein is not something that the body can store like it can other nutrients. Instead, any additional protein breaks down to either be used at that moment or stored away as fat.
While this is not a problem for active minis or minis that need more nourishment than others, it can be a problem for those that are not active. The biggest of these problems is obesity, and it is very common among miniature horses.
Diets that contain too much alfalfa have been known to lead to the formation of stones in a horse’s intestines. These stones can lead to colic, misery, and possible surgery to remove the stones.
How to Safely Feed Alfalfa
- Due to the potential risk of obesity, alfalfa should not be fed to your miniature horse free choice. Instead, to be safe, it should be fed in fixed amounts. Alfalfa should not make up more than 10 percent of your mini’s diet. And only then if it is safe for your horse. Below you will find additional information on horses that should and should not eat alfalfa.
- Do not introduce all of the alfalfa you want to feed your mini at once as doing so can have a negative impact on your miniature horse’s digestive system. Instead, slowly try adding it into their diet over a one to two week period.
- Be sure that the alfalfa you choose is not dusty or moldy as those can cause chronic lung disease.
- Also, check the alfalfa for blister beetles. These striped bugs feed on alfalfa blossoms and are often found in large quantities around fields during harvest. Blister beetles contain a toxin called cantharidin which can kill your miniature horse if it is ingested in large quantities. Most alfalfa will not have these beetles present, but it is always important to check prior to feeding your miniature horse.
Horses That Should Eat Alfalfa
While it is not healthy for every mini horse, alfalfa is very beneficial for some.
Alfalfa can benefit foals as long as they are mostly healthy. The calcium in the alfalfa can support the formation of the skeletal system, especially if the foal is not getting enough milk from its mom. Additionally, the protein gives a healthy foal plenty of energy to run and play, both of which are important to its development.
Horses With Muscle Problems or Equine Metabolic Syndrome
As protein is so beneficial for the formation and maintenance of a mini’s muscles, alfalfa is a great food for those who struggle with muscle issues. And due to its lower level of certain types of carbohydrates, it can support those with metabolic issues, such as EMS.
Race Horses and Performance Horses
The protein in alfalfa can support the extra work and movement of horses that compete and horses that are used for work. And, as those horses are active, there is no need to worry about the excess protein causing weight gain.
As alfalfa is so packed with nutrients, it can easily help underweight horses or horses that have trouble keeping on weight. Be sure to consult your vet first to make sure there is not another reason for the low weight that needs to be treated in a different way.
Pregnant and Lactating Mares
Just as human ladies need extra nourishment to provide for her baby, so do lady horses. As such, the additional protein and other nutrients in alfalfa can provide what the mare needs to pass along.
Miniature Horses That Don’t Want to Eat
If you have a mini that simply does not seem to want to eat, alfalfa can help tremendously. Mini horses, love alfalfa, so providing it to horses without an appetite has the propensity to get them eating again.
Horses That Should Not Eat Alfalfa
While every horse is different, the following are some mini horses that seem to suffer from eating alfalfa.
Overweight Horses or Those That Gain Weight Easily
Alfalfa is packed with protein, calcium, and carbs, all of which can be healthy for minis but can also lead to a lot of fat. If you have a mini that gains weight easily, try to avoid giving him alfalfa.
Also, as alfalfa supplies a much higher level of nutrients than nonworking horses require. Therefore, feeding them alfalfa can easily lead to obesity. If you still want to give it to your minis, be sure they are also getting plenty of exercise.
Horses Predisposed to Colic
As mentioned previously, too much alfalfa can lead to colic. This is especially true for horses that are predisposed to developing colic. In fact, for those who develop it easily, any amount of colic might be too much.
Minis With Kidney or Liver Issues
The high levels of protein present in alfalfa can have an impact on your mini’s kidneys and liver. It is believed, though, that only those with a pre-existing condition will actually suffer from the protein. However, if you would still like to add alfalfa, do so in limited quantities and provide plenty of water so it will flush the kidneys
Those With HYPP
HYPP, or hyperhyperkalemic periodic paralysis, is a horrible condition that affects some miniature horses. If a HYPP sufferer has high levels of potassium, sodium can leak into muscle tissue causing uncontrollable spasms and muscle paralysis, weakness, and death.
Minis that suffer from this condition are safest consuming no more than 1.1 percent of potassium. As alfalfa typically has more than 2 percent of potassium, it is best for those with HYPP to steer clear of this forage. If you choose to feed them alfalfa, consult your vet first and keep it to very limited quantities.