Alfalfa is so well received by horses that we’ve used ”alfalfa tea” as a flavoring for picky horses and to encourage consumption of otherwise bland meals, like beet pulp. All you need to do is put a handful of alfalfa pellets or leaves into a tall plastic container with 1 cup of water and microwave it on high for two to four minutes, or basically until the water becomes green and boils. Stir the mixture and allow it to cool. A little goes a long way when mixed into a feed. It’s even so tasty alfalfa pellets or cubes are a good alternative to high sugar or starch horse treats.
Alfalfa is also a great protein source. At 14 to 21% protein, just 1 pound provides from 64 to 93 grams of protein, which is 6.5 to 10% of an average 1100-lb. horse’s daily requirement. The rumor that it’s hard on a horse’s kidneys is simply not true.
Contrary to what you may hear otherwise, alfalfa does not prevent developmental bone and joint problems. It is high in calcium, but that’s not the the only nutrient involved. All minerals must be present in balanced and correct amounts to avoid bone and joint problems. It also doesn’t cause developmental bone and joint problems. Some folks believe alfalfa is bad because it’s high in protein. But high protein doesn’t cause these problems in young horses. Actually, inadequate protein is more likely to be a problem, as is overfeeding.
And alfalfa alone won’t make a horse fat, unless he eats too much of it. The calorie content of alfalfa isn’t much different from quality grass hay. However, alfalfa hay is often easier to chew and more palatable.
Alfalfa may cause enteroliths — stones that form in the horse’s intestines — in some horses. A diet consisting entirely of alfalfa can lead to more alkaline conditions in the colon, less fiber, higher concentrations of minerals and predispose to enteroliths. However, inclusion of grain or an acidifier (e.g., vinegar) in the diet, and feeding grass hay or pasture in addition to the alfalfa corrects these conditions.
Alfalfa may cause laminitis in some horses, but many horses are fed alfalfa their entire lives without ever having a problem with laminitis, and there are even horses prone to laminitis that tolerate it well. However, some horses are sensitive to alfalfa and become laminitic on it. The reason for this is not clear.
Some horses do respond to alfalfa in their diet by becoming obviously more energetic, just as some do with grain. Again, the reason for this is not clear.