Why Alfalfa is Better Than Timothy for Horses

Why Alfalfa is Better Than Timothy for Horses


Alfalfa or lucerne is a perennial legume that is grown as hay and silage. It is also used as a green manure crop that helps enrich the soil. Although Timothy is the main forage used in complete rabbit and guinea pig diets, it is sometimes mixed with alfalfa to provide a balance of nutrients. Here are a few reasons you would want to feed alfalfa instead of Timothy.

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Alfalfa or lucerne is a perennial legume that is grown as hay and silage. It is also used as a green manure crop that helps enrich the soil.

Although Timothy is the main forage used in complete rabbit and guinea pig diets, it is sometimes mixed with alfalfa to provide a balance of nutrients. Here are a few reasons you would want to feed alfalfa instead of Timothy.

High In Protein

Alfalfa contains anywhere from 14% protein on the low end to a whopping 25% for dairy-grade alfalfa. This is high for a legume. But premium alfalfa also has a lot of indigestible fiber, called lignin, that takes energy to digest. So, while the protein in alfalfa is beneficial, it isn’t a very efficient source of energy.

The higher the protein content in a feed, the more calories the horse will get from it. This is why horses with insulin issues often are advised to avoid hay with more than 20% protein. Too much protein can raise insulin levels, making a horse feel hot, anxious, or crazy. It can also cause the body to convert excess protein into glucose, which negatively impacts the kidneys.

In addition to its high protein content, alfalfa is also rich in fiber and vitamins. The high fiber is good for digestion and can help reduce the risk of colic. The vitamin content is also important, and many horses with metabolic syndrome benefit from the antioxidants in alfalfa.

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An Alfalfa U webinar presented by Dan Undersander, emeritus forage agronomist with the University of Wisconsin, reminded listeners that alfalfa brings a tremendous amount of value to a ration from a protein perspective. He said that while researchers have been working to improve bypass protein in other legumes, they are still not even close to matching the amount of protein found in alfalfa.

Undersander compared the forage nutritive attributes of timothy and alfalfa at three climatically contrasted sites. At the recommended stage of development for harvest, alfalfa had a higher IVTD of NDFd and aNDF compared to Timothy. At the same time, Timothy had a lower IVTD of NDFd and aNDF than either alfalfa or alfalfa-timothy mixtures at all three sites.

High In Fiber

Alfalfa is a legume which means that it has a high amount of fiber. This is very important for horses because it hydrates the large intestine well. It also contains many vitamins and minerals that are not found in Timothy hay. These include Vitamins A, D, E, K, U, B1, B2, B6, and B12, as well as Niacin, Pantothenic acid, Biotin, and Folic acid.

Like other legumes, alfalfa houses Rhizobium bacteria in nodules on its roots, providing the plant with a significant nitrogen source. However, these bacteria require a substantial portion of the plant’s photosynthate, which reduces its overall productivity.

The leaves and stems of the alfalfa plant differ in nutritive value, with leaves accounting for up to 70% of the nutritive value. Depending on the weather conditions, the leaf-to-stem ratio can vary, and this can influence a forage’s quality and digestibility. For example, alfalfa leaves have a higher digestibility of Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) than its stems, and the NDF concentration increases with the accumulated growing degree-days in temperature.

This is why the classic blend of Timothy-Alfalfa is so popular with horsemen – it offers both the high fiber and protein of alfalfa while still providing Timothy’s excellent palatability and digestibility. It is important to note that alfalfa can cause gastrointestinal upset in some horses, especially those with sensitive digestive tracts or auto-immune disorders. This may be due to its high estrogen content. In such cases, it may be wise to switch to grass hay. However, this should only be done under the guidance of a veterinarian. Grass hay typically contains less soluble fiber than alfalfa and can be difficult to pass through the hindgut.

High in Calcium

Alfalfa is rich in calcium, the second most abundant mineral in the body. It also contains a good amount of phosphorus. These two nutrients play a key role in bone development and calcium absorption in humans and horses.

Due to its high protein and calcium content, alfalfa must be fed in moderation. A diet too rich in alfalfa can lead to a buildup of minerals, particularly potassium, which can cause muscle tremors and even paralysis. If this occurs, your veterinarian will prescribe a low-protein diet and possibly a magnesium supplement.

Because of the way it is grown, alfalfa absorbs a lot of water from the soil. This makes it a very drought-tolerant crop. Its roots can easily penetrate the soil to get water, often going down three meters or more. This is why a field of alfalfa will typically need less fertilizer than a Timothy field.

From Passion To Profit

This can help keep soil nutrient levels high and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. It also helps reduce erosion, which is especially beneficial on windy sites. It also has the advantage of improving sand and clay soils.

Alfalfa has a long history of use as livestock feed, dating back to ancient times. It is also used in herbal medicine. It has been claimed to treat a variety of ailments, including high cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis, urinary tract infections, and menstrual problems. However, there is little scientific evidence to support these claims. People should not consume alfalfa in large amounts if they are pregnant or breastfeeding since it acts like estrogen. It is also unsafe to take in conjunction with certain medications, including photosensitive drugs that make your skin sensitive to the sun.

High In Vitamin A

Alfalfa contains high levels of Vitamin A, which horses need for eye health. It also aids in bone strength and the development of the reproductive system. The high amounts of Vitamin K found in alfalfa sprouts help to prevent and treat blood clots. Additionally, Vitamin A and K work together to promote the proper utilization of calcium which helps strengthen bones.

Because of its high protein content, alfalfa is a favorite for horses and other livestock. It is a perennial legume that grows in warm climates and has a long history of cultivation. It is often referred to as a weed, but it is a nutritious plant. Alfalfa is a high-yield crop that provides the animal with a lot of energy, protein, and essential nutrients.

Like most crops, alfalfa is susceptible to a variety of weather conditions and insects. Some of the most common problems include winterkill, bacterial wilt disease, and insect infestations. However, alfalfa can be grown successfully in dry areas and is drought-tolerant.

Adding alfalfa to Timothy hay increases the hay mixture’s total dry matter (DM) and forage quality. In addition, mixing Timothy with alfalfa significantly increased neutral detergent fiber concentration, water-soluble nitrogen, and total fatty acid concentrations of the forage. However, mixing Timothy with alfalfa did not reduce the forage N concentration, which is normally observed with an increase in DM yield.

The higher levels of Vitamin A in alfalfa make it a more desirable feed for the horse than Timothy. It is a great source of the horse’s energy, protein, and nutrients. In addition, it is low in sugar and starch, making it a safer feed for horses at risk of laminitis.

High In Vitamin C

Alfalfa is one of the best food sources of vitamin C. This powerful antioxidant helps protect against oxidative stress, which can damage cells and increase the risk of disease. Vitamin C also helps maintain the health of bones, tissues, and blood vessels. It is an essential nutrient for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, helping the body to form and maintain healthy red blood cells.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L) is an herb in the pea family that can be eaten raw or cooked as sprouts, used as a dried leaf or seed, or included as part of a nutritionally balanced diet for rabbits and other herbivores. Alfalfa hay contains high levels of calcium, phosphorus, and many vitamins and minerals. It is also a rich source of protein and can be particularly beneficial to growing, pregnant, or lactating animals.

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Because of its rapid regrowth, alfalfa can produce up to 13 harvests in one growing season. It is a perennial legume, meaning it comes back each year from a crown or rootstock.

The lateral or side shoots of the plant contain racemes of small flowers that are usually yellow or purple. When successfully pollinated by insects, the flowers develop into corkscrew-coiled legume seeds containing two to eight seeds each.

The plants house symbiotic bacteria called rhizobia in their root nodules, which “fix” nitrogen from the air into the soil so other plants can use it. This ability makes them nitrogen-efficient crops, requiring less fertilizer than grass. Alfalfa is often cultivated as an alternative to conventional soybeans, which are typically genetically modified and can have harmful effects on the environment.

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