Sunday, January 15, 2012

alfalfa: hay vs. pellets

I've been watching my hay stack go down this winter quicker than normal. I never did get enough hay this fall to last out the winter. The last few winters I have been feeding grass or grass mix hay to my horses on my vet's recommendation but last year I switched back to mostly alfalfa because it is so hard to keep weight on them.

If I had a truck that ran, I could buy more hay. Of course, it would be at premium prices since we had the drought and hay shortage last summer. Or I could try and hijack one of the many semi hay trucks that I pass on the freeway every day. However, they wouldn't be able to deliver it to my barn because of the snow and mud that I still have. And they are carrying the giant bales that need a forklift to move. But still, it would be nice to have four or five of those in my barn right now.

As a solution to my hay shortage, I have been feeding alfalfa pellets in the mornings and alfalfa hay at night, to the horses. I worried about Nadia having trouble chewing because she is so old (almost 29) but she seems to be doing all right.

I am still feeding the grass hay to the alpacas because everyone recommends it and not the alfalfa, but whenever they are loose in the barn, they bee-line it straight to the alfalfa. I guess everyone likes what's not so good for them, huh?

I'm hoping this will stretch the hay I still have until I can get some more this spring. Actually, there is less wastage with the pellets and the horses seem to be chewing the pellets okay. The biggest drawback is that it is costing me $11 for 50 pounds and that is just about a two day supply when I only feed it in the mornings. And every few days I need to tote bags out to the barn. Again, IF my truck were running AND I could get to the barn, I could buy a full pallet (at a discount) and drive right into the barn to stack it. Top of my to do list- fix my truck, right?

I've been feeding two large (2+ lb) coffee tins of alfalfa pellets and a large can of grain each to Yalla!, Nadia, and Annie. Scout gets a smaller (2lb) can of grain with his two large cans of pellets. So far, they seem to be doing fine. Hopefully, they won't lose weight because I really can't afford to give them more, although every other day or so, I've been giving each of the girls an extra can of pellets at a feeding.

I used to board years ago and that's what they fed, although they were called horse cubes- one inch squares of a pelleted, complete feed. I remember the standard feeding amount was two scoops which is pretty much what I'm feeding. I haven't found them in the feed stores though. Nowadays, it's little, compressed cubes of alfalfa hay, like mini bales, or the fat, alfalfa pellets. Complete feeds are a smaller pellet than the alfalfa pellets.

Here's Scout eating a combination of the mini bales, alfalfa pellets, and grain.

Does anyone else feed alfalfa pellets? How much do you feed? Do you still prefer hay?


Dan and Betty Cooksey said...

Val, I don't have any experience with pellets of any kind. We're strictly grass hay.


Camryn said...

I feed them to my mare in the winter. Though she still gets her hay as well. I'm giving her 3 lbs a day, 1/2 lb mixed in with her normal pellets morning and evening, then 1 lb with lunch time hay. I have noticed she's not needing to eat all her breakfast/lunch hay with the addition of the pellets.

mrscravitz said...

I have a cousin in southern California and she feeds these pellets. She LOVES THEM! She said there is a lot less waste and mess. She orders them by the truck loads. She has a lot of horses. I am not sure how much she feeds each horse though.

fernvalley01 said...

I have done like you supplemental with alfalfa pellets or cube, the only thing to remember is it is a dehydrated feed, and make sure they are getting lots of water, older horses many will soak them . sounds to me like you have the amount right , if the horses are holding condition and not over fat

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Yes, water consumption has been a huge concern of mine. We have freezing temperatures every night and so the water is frozen in the morning when I'm giving them the pelleted feed. Maybe I should pour some hot water in with the pellets then?

fernvalley01 said...

Wouldn't hurt , esp with the colder temps

Shirley said...

One thing you could do for your old mare is feed her a mash of beet pulp, check with Janice (Own a Morgan blog) it's what she supplements her 35 year old horse. Tex, with. I'm not a fan of feeding alfalfa, as it isn't a balanced feed for horses and can cause problems. I wonder if you can get hay cubes instead of alfalfa pellets? Also, having straw available as roughage for them if you are feeding alfalfa pellets is a good idea.

Val said...

I worked at a farm that had a 30 year old horse who ate soaked alfalfa cubes as a complete substitute for hay, which he could no longer eat. He basically ate cube/senior feed soup and loved it.

My vet recommends alfalfa pellets to supplement coarse (not very rich) hay. She recommended one half scoop (standard feed scoop) per feeding with his usual dinner and hay. The pellets do not have to be soaked, although soaking is a good idea since they are dehydrated. Cubes are important to soak to prevent choking.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Since you are feeding the pellets in the AM and the horses have access to open water all day, when the temperatures are warmer and they are more likely to drink, I think you are probably safe, even if you don't add water to the pellets.

Have you thought about using some beet pulp shreds? That might help lighten the feed bill on the pellets a tish.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I used to give a beet pulp mash every morning but stopped when I started having to carry hot water out to pour into the animals' water every morning. I couldn't carry it all and didn't want/have time to make multiple trips in the snow before work. And then I began feeding the alfalfa pellets. I guess I should go back to feeding the beet pulp mash too. Or as you suggested, beet pulp shreds. It's more expensive and it comes in 40 pound bags instead of 50#. Is it better to use since you don't need to add water? Truthfully, I've never tried the shreds. Yes, I suppose straw would be a good bulk addition to their diet.

Breathe said...

We feed alfalfa pellets, but in place of grain, not hay. We also feed beet pulp, soaked.

Time to teach those horses to pull a wagon so they can drag their own food in...

Lots of NM horse have alfalfa, way more than here. All the horses at the clinic I went to last year were on alfalfa.

Reddunappy said...

I feed hay, I prefer to feed grass hay. Our hay comes from Eastern Oregon or Washington. I live a mile from the Dairy where I buy my hay.

I also feed Beet pulp in the winter.

I soak 4 cups of pellets over night, in cold water, then give the old mare 4 20oz sour cream containers and 4 cups of senior feed for her. The other two get half that.(I have a 3 gal bucket that is resident in my kitchen LOL)
I prefer Beet pulp because its only around 9% protein, my mare get goofy on alfalfa. I have also heard that alfalfa can be hard on their kidneys.
They also get one flake of hay am and pm, they are fat girls, even my 27 yr old is doing good.
When she quits being able to eat hay I will probably feed her a grass chop, which is chopped up and molassas (sp) added. So its kinda pre chewed! LOL

Reddunappy said...

Oh and I forgot, up here we can get timothy hay pellets!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Timothy pellets?? interesting.
When I lived in Illinois, the hay of choice was clover. Does anyone still feed clover? I know it's a legume like alfalfa. They don't grow it here. We get all kinds of grass- brome, k31, gramma, timothy, orchard, and fescue, to name the ones that come to mind. Are any better than others? I try to avoid fescue because of the possiblity of endophite toxicity, especially while Annie was pregnant.

My preferred hay is an alfalfa/grass mix. That way, they get the higher protein of the alfalfa and also grass for roughage. However, I may just continue feeding the alfalfa pellets and get straight grass hay, when I can, again.

I will certainly try watering down the pellets- can't hurt- and add beet pulp mash, like I used to.

Midlife Mom said...

Three of my horses are such easy keepers and the forth does well with just extra grain so I have never used anything but regular hay for a long time. I swear my three would get fat on a teaspoon of feed, I am constantly fighting the battle of the bulge, ME and them! ha! Love your blog with all the animals. I would love to have some alpacas some day, are they really as cute and cuddly as they look?

Dreaming said...

I'm thinking that the weight of the pelleted alfalfa should equal the weight of what you would normally feed them.

I feed prairie grass hay but in the evening they get a cup of pelleted Timothy hay along with a cup of balanced feed as a special treat!

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Yes, timothy pellets are available, as are a timothy/alfalfa mix pellet (or cube). If your store doesn't carry them in stock, if you ask, they will probably order some in.

From a competitive standpoint, timothy or orchard is the better grass hay. Brome is pretty low in nutrients and from my personal experience, my horses waste a lot of it. I don't have any experience with gramma or K31 (not even sure what type of grass that is). I don't feed fescue.

Clover is a regional thing. But because there are so many different types and people outside an area where it is common are not familiar with which ones are okay to feed and which ones are bad...they typically avoid it.

I have waffled on the alfalfa issue for years, but have come to the conclusion...It just depends...Alfalfa is good for normal growing youngsters, horses with competitive feed needs and older horses that don't have joint issues. I only feed 2nd cutting alfalfa that has not been fertilized between cuttings. It wasn't the alfalfa itself that was causing problems for my horses, it was the fertilizer that was burning them up. For the most part an alfalfa/grass mix is ideal. If I can get nice 60/40 bales, I sure do like feeding that to the horses I have that need a little extra.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

The thing is, what you are trying to do is stretch the hay you have and prepare for the possibility of a tough hay year?

That is where the beet pulp comes in handy. It is high in fiber, so the horses get a full feeling and need less actual roughage and you can reduce the amount of pellets you have to feed. Personally, I prefer the shreds to the beet pulp pellets. They don't require overnight soaking and don't turn to mush. Add water and they actually fluff up. I simply feed a 1/2 of a 2lb. coffee can, cover with room-temperature water, mix them up with whatever else I am feeding and feed immediately. The shreds will absorb the excess water while the horses are eating. In times of extreme hay shortages, you can feed up to a full coffee can (dry measured) per feeding...BUT...There is a lot of molasses in the shreds, so take that into consideration.

I was feeding 7 head of horses a 1/2 a coffee can per day and a bag of shreds was lasting me 5-6 days. Because not all of my horses actually need grain, but a 1/4 of a can of grain isn't much more than a bite or two, they got to feel like they were getting a substantial helping and they weren't getting all jacked up on high-end feed.

I don't know that adding the shreds will actually reduce your feed bill. They used to be fairly cheap, but have gone up dramatically in price. You could probably get an extra day out of your hay pellets, but the cost of the shreds would offset that savings. So it might be more about avoiding hyping the ponies up on a lot of the pelleted hay, cause that sure can make them feel good. ;-)

Ann said...

Is this alfafa different from the salad ones we buy from supermarkets?

Trainwreck said...

I like pellets/ cubes, less waste but we feed hay. Haven't been able to get it by the truck load bc the dairys have a contract with the hay farmers. So the price we pay is awful, and weekly. So.... how are you other than that? Miss you and this "chatting"

Fantastyk Voyager said...

No the supermarket actually sells the sprouts. The hay is the grown plant as it matures and goes to flower.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

With my chubby easy-keeper mare, I only feed orchard, bermuda or timothy grass hay. Alfalfa gets Apache jacked up and makes her fat, so I just avoid it.

Mike and Lorraine at the feed store have recommended that I begin feeding pellets to help stretch our hay, but they said not to feed it in place of hay, in other words to continue providing hay at each meal, just in smaller half pellets and half hay, because horses still need to have the roughage.

The goats and llamas require the roughage because of their multiple stomachs and cud-chewing. And the goats, especially the wether, can't have alfalfa because they can end up with kidney stones from the extra calcium levels. Also I fed them alfalfa years ago and discovered that they wasted much of it, only eating the soft, leafy parts and leaving behind the coarse stems.

Also using a small mesh slow feeder really helps stretch your hay and is a more natural way for horses to eat anyway. They get small mouthfuls just like they would if they were grazing and will be able to eat for longer periods of time.
I use hockey netting from Arizona Sports and got the information on how to make them a few years ago on Paddock Paradise if you're interested.


Fantastyk Voyager said...

I found out that my feed store carries bermuda-alfalfa pellets with a 10% protein content. I'm going to try feeding those. They are the same price as the straight alfalfa pellets too.

achieve1dream said...

I'm a fan of shredded beet pulp. I actually feed it dry, but when you add water it does fluff up into a nice meal instead of turning to soup which I love. I use it that way to hide medicines. :) I use alfalfa pellets as treats, but haven't used them for hay extender.

Lori Skoog said...

Do you soak your hay cubes? Much easier for them to eat...expands it like crazy...if you do it in advance it really fluffs it up. I feed soaked beet pulp pellets (2 cups)morning and night. Around here, I can get hay delivered almost year round.