Too often people will swear up & down that alfalfa is a major cause of laminitis in horses. While any high calorie component in a horse’s diet can contribute to equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), that lush, green alfalfa is not the high sugar culprit; instead, it’s the grass hay in your alfalfa-grass blend hay.

Almost always, the grass hay used in alfalfa-grass blend bales is a cool season grass, such as orchard or timothy. While the alfalfa & grass seed is planted at the same time, the alfalfa grows & matures more rapidly than grass hay. So when the alfalfa is at peak maturity with dark green broad leaves & purple flowers, the grass hay component is still quite immature.

In grass hay, immaturity means that the accumulated stores of sugars & fructans* in the leaves have not yet been converted to the fi brous components needed for increased fiber length.

Conversely, mature grass hay will have long fiber stems, small seed heads and, most importantly for laminiticprone horses, relatively low sugar & fructan accumulations.

The problem that arises, though, is that when the grass hay is mature, the alfalfa does not appear to have the telltale signs of “good” alfalfa & is riddled with leaf breakage & no flowers.
However, nutritionally, this is just fine for the horse, particularly if you are looking for a very high fi ber & palatable hay for your equine.

The best way to avoid the issues with blended hay, though, is to simply buy separate bales of grass hay & alfalfa. That way you get both hays at peak maturity for you & your horse’s peace of mind.

*Fructans are a complex sugar that are rapidly fermented by the microbial population in the horse’s gut, making them a major contributor to laminitis, even though they do not contribute to
blood glucose levels. More on this next week on Feed for Thought with Cavalor!