Is grazing on Alphalfa ok for my horse?

Asked March 22, 2016, 3:16 PM EDT


My mare is on a new pasture this spring after her first winter on pasture. The new pasture has a significant amount of Alfalfa plants that will be coming up soon. I have heard everything from Alfalfa in the field is toxic to its a great source of protein and calcium.

Can you pleas tell me what I need to know and what precautions I need to take about grazing my mare in a field with Alfalfa?

She’s a 6 yo TB and not pregnant.


Boulder County Colorado

2 Responses

Alfalfa is a nutritious high protein, calcium rich legume that can be fed to horses provided some basic precautions are taken. Horses can develop colic if they are suddenly turned out onto green alfalfa and they are not accustomed to eating this rich food. Depending on how much alfalfa is in your pasture, it would be wise to feed your horse grass hay before turning the horse onto a pasture with lots of newly sprouting alfalfa. A horse with a full stomach will not want to eat that much additional alfalfa. If the pasture is at least 50% grasses, this again will tend to dilute what the horse eats. An alternate approach is to allow the horse to graze the pasture and alfalfa for 30-60 minutes, gradually increasing the time over a 7-10 day period. Similarly always feed grass hay with alfalfa hay so as not to exceed 1/3 to 1/2 of the diet in alfalfa hay. Along the front rang many areas have soils high in the mineral Selenium (Se). Grasses growing in these areas will have high Se content that if eaten by horses can cause cracked hooves and even lameness. Feeding some alfalfa to the horse will help prevent the absorption of Se because alfalfa has high levels of sulfur that counteracts the absorption of the Se. As a general rule, about 1/3rd of the horse's daily intake of hay can be alfalfa. If your horse shows signs of colic, take it off of the alfalfa!

Thank you very much :)