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Cowboy Bob,

Could you tell me which is better to feed horses: first or second cutting hay. We live in northern Michigan. Thank you for your help once again.

D. J.


As you'll see in the feeding chart in the Q&A section ( it's almost a toss-up, but first cutting has a slight edge. I suspect that the reason for this is that early in the season plants put most of their energy into the stem and leaves. As winter approaches, the process reverses, and plants start storing nutrients in the root system.


Every year our horse club (co-op feeding of about 60 horses) has a passionate and sometimes heated debate over whether to feed grass hay, alfalfa or mix. There are arguments that range from each being the best to each actually being harmful - with all kinds of reasons and side effects given. What's the right thing to feed?

G. L.


At the risk of getting a bunch of good folks mad at me, here's my take on the topic:

When discussing feeding of grass hay versus alfalfa, it's important to remember that alfalfa is a legume, not a grass. It may be helpful, therefore, to think of the subject in terms of feeding grass hay versus feeding soy beans or some other legume. Obviously, soy can be fed to horses, but it needs to be done very carefully. The same holds true for alfalfa.

On the plus side, alfalfa hay is more palatable than grass hays and can be used to encourage sick horses to eat more. It can also be used to provide more energy to horses with a heavy workload.

On the other hand, alfalfa tends to be a laxative in horses and is a very high energy feed, so it should normally be fed in limited amounts, especially to young horses, and preferably mixed with grass hay. In Quarter Horses, American Paint horses, Appaloosas, and Quarter Horse crossbreeds at risk for HyPP, alfalfa hay can trigger the disease. Cantharidin poisoning is caused by ingesting blister beetles, which seem to especially love alfalfa. Alfalfa has also been suspected as a cause of photosensitivity in horses, and may promote the growth of intestinal stones. And, of course, a sudden addition or increase of alfalfa in a horse's diet may trigger colic.

As a general rule, horses eat an average of 2 to 2.5 pounds of roughage per hundred pounds of body weight per day. The general rule is that even work horses should not be given more than 1.1 pounds of alfalfa hay per hundredweight per day. On that basis, a 50/50 mix of alfalfa to grass hay is as "hot" a hay mix as I'd like to see. One exception may be nursing mares, because of their very high calcium and protein requirements. Under no conditions should horses be given unlimited access to straight alfalfa hay.

For an average horse, good quality timothy hay plus a bit of oats is usually sufficient. For old, sick, or extremely active horses, the owner will have to use his or her best judgment as to the addition of alfalfa hay.

I hope this helps -- and that I won't have too many members of your co-op out to tar and feather me! ;o)

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