Forages for Horses

This blog post is courtesy of Jennifer Earing, PhD, University of Minnesota.

Forage selection should be based on horse needs, as there is no one forage best suited for all classes of horses.  For example, providing a nutrient-dense forage like vegetative alfalfa hay to ‘easy keepers’ can create obesity issues; however, that same hay would be good option for a performance horse with elevated nutrient requirements.  With so many forages available, how does one choose the best option??  Differences in the nutritive quality of forages (hay or pasture) are largely based on two factors: plant maturity and species.


Regardless of plant species, stage of maturity significantly affects forage quality. 

  • Young, vegetative forages are very nutrient dense and contain fewer fibrous carbohydrates (hemicellulose, cellulose, and lignin). 
  • As the plant matures (flowers and seed heads are indicators of maturity), the proportion of fiber in the plant increases, to provide structural support as the plant gets larger.  The increased level of lignin associated with maturation interferes with the digestion of cellulose and hemicellulose by hindgut microorganisms, thereby reducing the digestibility of the forage.  
  • More mature forages also have lower energy and protein levels than their immature counterparts. 

Most horses do well on mid-maturity forages; horses with elevated nutrient requirements benefit from receiving young, less mature forages, while more mature forages are be best suited for ‘easy keepers’.

Plant species

Legumes vs. Grasses
Legumes (i.e. alfalfa and clovers) generally produce higher quality forage than grasses.  Often, legumes have higher energy, protein, and mineral (specifically calcium) content when compared to grasses at a similar stage of maturity, and are typically more digestible and more palatable. Legumes are an excellent source of nutrients for horses; however, a horse’s nutrient requirements can easily be exceeded when fed immature legumes.  Consumption of excess nutrients, particularly energy, may result in obesity or other digestive issues.  Legume-grass mixes or mid- to late-maturity legumes (which are less nutrient-dense) often provide adequate nutrients, without exceeding the horse’s requirements.    

Cool Season Grasses vs. Warm Season Grasses

Cool-season grasses (CSG; i.e. timothy, bromegrass, bluegrass, and orchardgrass) typically have a higher nutritive value compared to warm season grasses (WSG; i.e. bahiagrass, bermudagrass and bluestems).  At a similar stage of maturity, CSG have a higher protein content and lower fiber content.  The higher fiber content in WSGs is due to the fact that they mature and become lignified more rapidly than CSGs.  WSGs in late stages of maturity are typically less digestible and may be less palatable than CSGs.  Consequently, if feeding WSGs it may be advantageous to harvest the forage at an earlier stage of maturity, compared to CSGs.

CSGs store the majority of their carbohydrates as fructans, while WSGs and legumes store their carbohydrates as starch.  Rapid consumption of forages containing high levels of fructans, as with other water-soluble carbohydrates, may trigger laminitis in susceptible horses.  Fructan levels are highest in lush spring pastures and often increase during drought conditions.  Carbohydrate content of forage is an important consideration for owners of horses struggling with chronic laminitis issues, equine metabolic syndrome, and PSSM

Differences in average nutritive values of forages commonly fed to horses are shown in Table 1.


The digestive system of the horse has been designed to efficiently utilize forages, and most horses can fulfill their nutrient requirements on these types of diets.  Matching the nutrient levels in the forage to the nutrient requirements of the horse is one of the primary goals in forage selection.  A variety of factors, including plant species and maturity, should be considered when making this decision.

47 Replies to “Forages for Horses”

  1. I know someone that bales oats, yes, oats, it is stemmy, but they feed it to there horses, my question, is it safe to feed bales oats to horses? This rancher has been doing it for years in central Texas and has had no problems. I would just like to know what the experts say. Thanks so much.

    1. Hello Robin,

      Great question! Dr. Krishona Martinson of the University of MN provided this response:

      Oat hay is usually “green” or not fully mature oats that is cut with intact grain heads (prior to grain harvest) and baled. Straw is stem material that is left after the mature oats are harvested for grain; straw is usually used for bedding and not hay. Oat hay is commonly fed to livestock and can be a quality feed (mostly because the grain or seed heads are intact), even if it does not look “great”. One concern is getting the hay adequately dried prior to baling so it does not mold. However, with your drier environment (in TX), this is likely not a huge concern. If the rancher has been feeding oat hay for years without issues, then it’s likely serving as a good feed source for him/her.

      Thanks ~ Gina T.

    2. Yes, oat hay can be very good feed for horses. They love it. Depending on the variety, they may or may not clean up the stems after the eat the oat heads.

      The best hay I ever fed was oat hay over-seeded on alfalfa. Growers do that when the alfalfa is a little thin, but they don’t want to replant that year. (Alfalfa has to be replanted every 3-4 years.)

      Oat straw is bedding that is left when the oats are harvested. It is not suitable for feed, but some gluttonous or bored horses will eat it.

      In central Texas, it is common for cattle ranchers and some horse ranches to plant oats and rye grass for winter grazing. If it over-produces, they may then bale it in the spring when the oats are mature.

      If they expect a colder than average winter or are further north, they will plant wheat and rye grass instead. Horses and cattle tend to prefer oats to wheat, but either makes good winter grazing.

  2. I got some grass hay that is loaded with yellow hops. Is that a problem for horses?

    1. Hello Kimbra, thanks for the question!

      If you are referring to yellow hop clover, it can be used as forage, but has the possibility to create a problem with photosensitivity like some other clovers.  It would be a good idea to have the hay tested to understand its overall nutritional value, and also consult with your local equine extension office, as they would be most familiar with regional forages.

      We hope that helps you, if you have further questions please do let us know!
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

  3. I am shocked and disgusted by this article. Having known one horse which died after an accidental feeding of alfalfa and one horse which turned “mean” after being fed an alfalfa/timothy mix (after the owner had specified “no alfalfa”) and one baby which, having been fed alfalfa on the advice of an ill-informed vet and which then had to be put down after developing serious bone malformation by 3 months, I will never feed alfalfa to any horse of mine. It is SO unnecessary, and is often done just to save money! There is certainly enough evidence that at least some horses cannot tolerate alfalfa hay and that, no doubt, many which are fed it would be healthier and more even-tempered if they did not get fed it, that horse owners should always be informed that extreme caution is needed when considering feeding it. Your article is not responsible in this respect.

    1. Hi Deborah,
      Thank you for your comments, and we are sorry for the situations you have experienced. Please allow us to further clarify our position, as follows:

      Horses do not have specific ingredient requirements (e.g. wheat, soybean, oats), rather they have nutrient requirements (amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fat, carbohydrates, etc.).  We use different ingredients, including grass and legume forages, grain concentrates and supplements, to meet specific nutrient requirements depending on the specific class of horse.  Horses are individuals and should be fed as such to meet their unique requirements.  Alfalfa is very palatable and an excellent source of nutrients for horses, although its higher energy, protein, and mineral content, as well as higher digestibility compared to grass forages, especially at younger maturity, may exceed a horses nutrient requirements if fed at too high a feeding rate.  For many horses, alfalfa is part of a high quality balanced ration that supports health and performance. 
      For horses with an existing clinical condition or dietary sensitivity (e.g. liver or kidney disease, muscle disorders, etc.), which tends to be a small percentage of the population, the higher protein, energy, mineral content in alfalfa based forages compared to grass based forages, may be inappropriate for these individuals and suitable alternatives should be provided.  It should also be mentioned, that blister beetles, which are extremely toxic to horses due to cantharidin, and are one of several pests that can be found specifically in alfalfa.  Ensuring that any forage fed to horses is high quality, free of mold, dust, pests, trash, noxious or poisonous plants is very important. 
      Typically, dietary imbalances (improper energy to nutrient ratios in the total diet) combined with genetic predisposition, are largely responsible for developmental disorders, not simply feeding alfalfa.  To the best of our knowledge, there is no evidence in peer reviewed literature or otherwise that indicates a correlation between providing alfalfa and a consequent sour or mean disposition in horses.  In many cases, there are underlying environmental, social and/or health conditions that contribute to such behavior.   In any case where there are behavioral or clinical health concerns regarding including alfalfa or any other dietary component, as part of a balanced ration for a horse, it is recommended that  a nutritionist and veterinarian be consulted prior to changing the diet in order to account for special dietary needs, or sensitivities that need to be managed. 
      Alfalfa is just one option of many that can be utilized in a balanced diet.  Matching the nutrient levels in the total diet (forage, concentrate, supplements, and treats) to the nutrient requirements of the horse is very important. 

      Sincerely ~ Emily L.

      1. I felt your article did say specific horses such as performance horses can have alfalfa, its my experience that if a horse is mean and full of energy , you need to get him more excercise, training by a good trainer and cut back on the high sugar and protein in ther diet such as alfalfa. To put a horse on high octane to stand in a stall all day is disaterous and bad for any horse. Great article.

        1. Hello Kathy – Excellent point. Every horse should have it’s own feeding program that adjusts for individual temperament, activity level, and metabolism. Thanks for reading!
          Gina T.

      2. In response to Debra Nicely – Having owned a feed store and managed a feed store for over 25 years ,I know for a fact that alfalfa alone is not responsible for all her “problems”. Alfalfa is a good forage for horses. True, it is not for every horse and there are certain horses that cannot tolerate it but to say it is responsible for all those problems is insane. Where we live it is the most common forage and it isn’t the cheapest forage available. While I have heard of horses that are “allergic” there are also horses in our area that can’t tolerate the grass hays. It is totally on an individual basis. We sell more alfalfa than any other forage and we do carry several grass varieties. I think it depends on your locale and what is available . they all have their specific qualities.

    2. Deborah you must live up north where alfalfa is not readily available, i live in the southwest and we feed lots and lots of alfalfa and have never had a problem. You must have some knowledge about feeding various types of forage before attempting something new. The benefits much outweigh the negatives, lots of Ca
      which helps with ulcers and talk about putting a bloom on one! Its a super forage in my opinion and we have had nothing but success feeding it. I even do a little rescuing and these animals go on alfalfa when they arrive and its free choice, now its prob. 4th or 5th cut but still free choice. Very good feed source.

    3. I have fed alfalfa hay for years. You are severely misinformed that alfalfa is bad. My horses are healthy and have not problems from the alfalfa. These issues sound like horse owners with no clue on how to handle horses and manage their entire feed intake.

  4. Our hay sources are regional. Take me in WI, I’m not likely to be purchasing WSG for my winter hay supply. A more informative Table would be to show the various nutrient measurements of CSG at different stages of growth/harvest. Then a person could try to figure what stage of maturity is best for the horse(s) they are managing. Or even better yet, a table that shows various percentages of grass and legume mixes as this is what most people in northern climates are purchasing. Where can I get more detailed information such as I’ve mentioned? Thank you for this information, it helps horse owners start thinking about these important aspects of hay selection.

    1. Hi Janet, Great points! On your question about detailed information, the publication, “Nutrient Requirements of Horses”, will list these values in more detail, however, the book is very technical and spendy. Also, the numbers for various feedstuffs, including hay types, are “averages”. They are good starting points, but the best thing a horse owner can do is have their hay source analyzed.
      For reference, although legumes (i.e. alfalfa) tend to have higher amounts of protein and energy and lower amount of carbohydrates compared to grasses, maturity is the driving force behind forage quality. Generally, more mature grasses and legumes will contain more fiber, less protein, and less energy compared younger, immature forages. More mature forages are better suited for mature, idle horses and horses in light work. Mixes are hard to describe because they rely heaving on exact percentage of legumes and grasses and of course maturity.
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

  5. An informative summary. One small quibble: the digestive system of horses EVOLVED to efficiently utilize forages. In fact, the shift from browsing to grazing in horses throughout the Tertiary, as manifested by changes in the structures of their teeth and skulls, is one of the best-documented patterns of evolutionary change in the fossil record.

  6. I appreciated your information about legumes, especiallyclover. I have a lot of lidino clover in my pasture and was concerned about the horses getting too much of it. So far they are doing well and your article eases my mind about their conumption of it.

  7. Owners need to keep in mind that nutritional needs vary based on age, breed, activity level. When managing a barn full of different aged/breed horses- it is sometimes necessary to have different types of hay on hand. Different parts of the country are limited one certain types of hay as well. It is hard to find alfalfa in the southeast—-can one substitute with alfalfa pellets?

    1. Hello Caren, Excellent points! And yes, you can substitute alfalfa pellets for alfalfa hay, to an extent. It is always best to try to include at least a portion of the diet as long-stemmed roughage, to keep optimum digestive health – and to relieve some boredom!

      Thank you, Gina T.

  8. Thank you for de-mystifying the different types of hay! Just wondering; is there a good hay mix to feed to a ” herd of 6″ with different requirements? I have both easy keepers, hard keepers, and insulin resistent horses! Can’t afford to buy different bales for each horse! I usually feed them from a large round bale of alfalfa hay.

    1. Hi Lou,

      Thanks for your question. Having a variety of horses with different needs can be challenging to manage, but not impossible. Utilizing grain concentrates to meet a horse’s specific needs can allow for some specialization, particularly if you have one variety of hay. Additionally, feeding grain meals separately allows for the horses to be fed as individuals, which is important especially if different concentrate products are used to meet unique needs. This way, horses get their specific ration without the social pressure of the herd dynamic.

      Providing a good quality, mid-maturity grass/legume mix hay would probably be a good compromise. Feeding straight alfalfa may not be the best solution for everybody in your herd. If possible, have the hay tested so you know what the nutrient and energy content is, and can adjust the total diet accordingly. An equine nutritionist or local extension specialist could help you with this. For the easy keepers/insulin resistant horses, a low calorie ration balancer is useful for balancing the diet and providing certain nutrients that the hay alone might not be providing, without the extra calories that can lead to or exacerbate obesity. For horses that are insulin resistant and prone to laminitis, the NSC content of the total diet (hay/pasture + grain + supplements + treats) is recommended to be under 11%. Use of a grazing muzzle can help limit forage intake for horses that are obese and/or insulin resistant and in a situation where they have free choice access to pasture and hay. Avoiding obesity and excess NSC consumption per meal is important for successful management of insulin resistant horses.

      For horses that are harder keepers, a balanced, controlled starch and sugar, higher calorie grain concentrate added to their forage ration can be very helpful in achieving and maintaining an optimal body condition. In all cases, free choice access to clean fresh water and salt is recommended. Please let us know if you have any other questions.

      Thanks! Emily L.

  9. What is oat hay/straw? How does peanut hay compare to alfalfa? I have been feeding clean bahia rolls that are kept under cover for at least 15 years and have been told its just a matter of time before my horse and pony colic from it, what is your opion? One more question, I have access to locally grown bermuda rolls are they ok to feed to horses?

    1. Hi Barbara,
      Oat hay is usually made from mature oats in the soft dough stage. The quality is very good, as it usually has good grain to it. Oat straw would be more mature and just the fodder after the grain had been removed. This would be very poor quality, but useful for bedding. (it is often cleaner than wheat straw.)

      Peanut hay can have two meanings. Perennial peanut (PPnut) hay, sometimes referred to as “the alfalfa of the south”, has quality that is comparable to alfalfa, but is usually about 10% lower DE than alfalfa. It is an excellent choice for horse hay. The other meaning of peanut hay is baled up peanut vines after the peanuts have been picked. This is DEFINITELY not for horses. It is too dusty and too risky.

      Bahiagrass hay can be good quality, but it can also be absolute junk. As a rule of thumb, any bahiagrass (or bermudagrass) hay should be less than 65% NDF to be suitable for horses, particularly if they would be boarded horses that would be fed irregularly and not allowed frequent exercises. It is quite a feat to get bahiagrass to be less than 65% NDF, though it IS possible. Statistically speaking, only about the upper quartile of bahiagrass samples would fit this rule of thumb.

      Bermudagrass (as long as it fits the above category) could be excellent horse hay, as well. If it wasn’t for bermudagrass, most of our horses would starve! All kidding aside, we frequently see bermudagrass of very good quality. If it is cut when it is 4-5 wks old or less, then it likely will fit into that category.

      Hope this helps! Thanks ~ Gina T.

  10. Deborah Nicely states “to save money” I don’t know anyone saving money on Alfalfa. It’s $20.50 a bale where we are?

  11. Great information…One question: If forage has more nutritional value early on…does that mean it’s best to get the first or second cutting of the hay?


    1. Hello Ranee, Great question with a couple of different answers.

      Stage of maturity of the forage plant has the biggest single impact on the nutrient value of the forage. Plants harvested earlier in physiological maturity of the plant will have higher protein and digestible energy. As the plant matures and the stem becomes more coarse to support the weight of the plant, there is a higher % of fiber from hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin. The digestibility of the fiber drops as the level of lignin increases. The % of protein and the DE tend to drop.

      The cutting (first, second, third or fourth) has an impact primarily due to differences in growth rates depending on weather, season and management. First cutting may contain more annual weeds and may be more difficult to harvest at the right maturity in some regions.

      Best recommendation is to go by physiological maturity of the forage, then have forage tested to know what the actual content is when feeding to the animals. Young growing animals or animals with highest nutrient requirements benefit from forages cut at earlier plant maturity. Most horses do well on mid maturity. Very mature forages may qualify as “busy hay”, meaning the nutrient content is limited, but still gives the horses something to do!


  12. I have a question regarding clover use in horse hay. What causes “clover” burn in horses? Do all clovers cause it? I’ve also been told that some types of clovers may interfere with reproduction in broodmares?

    1. Hello Cynthia, Great questions. Some clovers, particularly white clover, can be affected by a mold that causes the horses, particularly horses with white markings on their face and legs with pink skin underneath, to be extremely susceptible to sunburn. These horses will get red, blister, and peel like a severe sunburn.

      There are also some plants that cause actual chemical burns. One that is getting some frequency now is wild parsnip.

      Sweet clover can also cause some problems as it produce Coumadin, which is a blood thinner.

      Red clover may be affected with a mold that produces slaframine, which causes “slobbers”.

      I am not familiar with any problems with clovers for reproductive issues unless there are mold issues. Reproductive issues tend to be linked to endophyte infected fescue.

      Regards ~ Roy J.

      1. Thanks for the heads up on the clover issues. We have had 2 white faced pintos here over the years, and both got “sunburned”. Occasionally, I would also find the herd slobbery. They hay guy I was dealing with told me there was some clover in the hay. But over the years I began to have doubts as to whether or not he was managing his cuts well, because the hay quality has suffered. I have a new hay guy, and so far so good.

        Thanks for confirming my suspicions.

  13. Thanks for the information. What information do you have on feeding Tiff 9 Hay. I understand that this is a type of bahia grass. We have had some difficulty getting good quality hay this year. We use rolls because of the number of horses we feed and some bales. We feed several varieties of good quality Nutrena Feed, based on our horses ages and health. So far they are doing well with this hay. In fact, I tried to pick up some bales for the horses that spend part of their time stalled–simply because it is more convenient and easier to gage the amount you are feeding than pulling hay from a roll. Two of the horses refused to eat the baled hay.

    1. Hello Priscilla, Thanks for the great question. Quality hay is becoming difficult to come across in several parts of the country this year, for sure. In regards to the Tiff 9 hay, we reached out to University of Georgia Forage Extension Specialist Dennis Hancock, PhD, as he is very familiar with this particular hay. Here is his response:

      Tifton 9 is a variety of bahiagrass that the USDA-ARS and UGA jointly released several years back. Bahiagrass is generally a low quality forage. Its yields are low compared to hybrid bermudagrasses and it is lower in quality, too. Long story short, the NDF levels on bahiagrass are often very high. Therefore, there is a heightened risk of colic/impaction. As such, I prefer to feed it only to horses in the field/pastures (i.e., not to horses being boarded). It is low in NSC, so EMS horse owners often use it to limit sugar content. Horses may not find it very palatable. They will eat it, but may have to be forced to do so.

      Thanks ~ Gina T.

  14. As an Arabian Breeder for over 50 years, We have fed Alfalfa Hay to all of our horses. Never had any problems, Moved to Texas and bought some grass hay. When we fed it the horses pulled it out of their feeders and put it on the stall floor, They laid down on it and thought it was bedding. They had never had poor quality hay, Just Alfalfa.

  15. I live in Arizona and alfalfa and bermuda is just about all that is readily available. And the bermuda is often poor quality and more or less just filler.

    All my neighbors and I have been feeding straight alfalfa for YEARS and have had no issue. The horses are slick and shiny and have great, strong, healthy feet. Many of us keep and ride them barefoot in the mountains. It doesn’t seem to cause hoof issues or digestive issues. As a matter of fact, the more studies I read about alfalfa the more I realize it is a great hay. I have always heard that excess protein is excreted and causes no harm. And that alfalfa actually often has lower protein levels than high quality pasture back east. If alfalfa has one fault it is the high calcium content. This has been linked with entroliths. So if I CAN find decent grass hay, I sometimes will mix it. But that is about it’s only flaw.

    I have also heard the “makes horses energetic” comments for years and still feed it and my horses aren’t crazy yet, ha ha! The way I look at it is a healthy, energetic, horse is normal. If all you feed is low quality grass hay and your horses are lethargic, than that is NOT normal. I do know people who feed bermuda precisely for this effect and their horses do not look shiny and healthy like the alfalfa fed horses. They are usually borderline thin with a dull coat.

    Like I said, in an ideal world, a grass/alfalfa mix would be the perfect hay, but that is hard to find in my area.

    In Arizona nearly everyone feeds alfalfa and I personally have NEVER seen a case of laminitis. Ever. I think that is because the majority of us do not have pasture. The horses eat hay year round. If a horse does have laminitis issues, it is likely the GRASS part of the diet causing that, not the alfalfa part. Alfalfa is not a high sugar hay.

    The latest research suggests developmental orthopedic disease is caused by an imbalanced diet and/ or excessive calories, not protein as previously thought in the past. I raised my colt from birth-2 yrs of age on mostly alfalfa with some bermuda mixed in and he has been on straight alfalfa since age 2 with no issues.

    I think alfalfa is everyone’s favorite scapegoat!

  16. Excellent articles….one thing I can’t help but wonder about, Coastal Bermuda Hay. Having fed it for years, we had one severe instance of impaction colic that survived and one death. The vets that attended both were not related and both said that we should not feed Coastal. Since changing to Timothy we have not had any instances. In fact, one gelding that had 2-3 gas pain episodes a year has been good for one year!
    I realize all horses needs are unique. We are in S.C. where Coastal has been the hay to feed and now we are being warned by vets in our area to reconsider due to high instances of inpaction. In reading the articles, could it be that the Coastal could be late maturity, hence hard to digest? We were purchasing from a source that sold thousands of bales and had what we thought was the best looking Coastal we’d seen. I occasionally found a feather in my hay and also wonder if they could be fertilizing with chicken droppings and somehow that could be the problem.
    For now, we’ll continue to buy Timothy and I wonder if I should be adding some Alfalfa. Also, one mare recovered from laminitis, I feel she got gassy with Alfalfa, but now wonder if I should try again as the Timothy could cause problems again.
    Thanks again for the article!

    1. Hello Debbie, Excellent question. We reached out to a couple of forage experts for help with your questions – Dr. Krishona Martinson from the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Dennis Hancock of the University of Georgia. Here is the information they provided back to us:

      Impaction in horses is an area where there is a lot of misinformation and distortion of the truth. Horses in Georgia and other states in the southeast have been fed bermudagrass for generations now. Impaction can be a problem, but it usually is a consequence of several issues and NOT necessarily the species being fed. Here are some general comments about impaction (but this is not an exhaustive list):

      1) Avoid feeding hay that is higher than 65% NDF – This is were warm season forages often get a bad wrap. The average NDF for bermudagrass (based on over 16,000 samples through our Lab since 2003) is actually right at 65%. That means, half of the bermudagrass hay that is put up is at or higher than 65%. That said, there are a very high percentage of cool season grass hays that would fall into this category, too. Timothy hay that is 65% NDF is just as likely to cause impaction as bermudagrass at the same level. The fundamental issue is that horse hay is too often bought on the basis of aesthetics (e.g., color, low mold, low dust, texture, etc.) and low price rather than nutritional value. The key is to buy from a reputable hay producer/broker who provides a detailed forage quality report.

      2) Provide hay ad libitum throughout the whole day – To often, horses are fed less than 3 times per day. This is totally unnatural for horses, which would spend nearly 70% of their day grazing if allowed to do so. Their digestive system isn’t set up to ingest in large quantities. When they do, it is setting them up for impaction.

      3) Provide lots of exercise – Exercise promotes proper movement of the digesta through the tract.

      4) Provide plenty of clean water – Water availability is critical to promote proper movement of the digesta through the tract, too. Also, keeping the digesta moist lubricates the tract and prevents damage to the tract.

      5) Older horses are predisposed to physical obstructions in the digestive tract that could increase the risk of impaction.

      One other note: ‘Coastal’ is one variety of bermudagrass, but it is often used as a generic term for bermudagrass (like ‘Kleenex’ for facial tissues). There are many varieties of bermudagrass. Some are prone to higher NDF levels than others. Some are likely to be cut at a much later maturity, too (in an effort to chase the highest yields). Ironically, ‘Coastal’ is middle of the pack for those which are at risk of being cut too late and having too high of an NDF level. Varieties like ‘Alicia’ are very risky.

      All forages will become stemmy, course and higher in NDF as they mature. If the goal is keeping the NDF lower, the hay should be harvested when the plants are younger. Also, legumes (alfalfa) are much lower in NSC compared to cool season grasses like timothy. If lowering the NSC is important, adding some alfalfa to the hay mix will definitely help. Most people agree horses suffering from laminitis should have a diet (hay + grain) that is less than 10-12% NSC. This is very hard to do with cool-season grasses alone; a legume (or inclusion of a warm season grass) will almost be necessary.

      We hope this helps! Thanks ~ Gina T.

  17. Hey deb I feed straight alfalfa to my barn of 16 head, and have had NO problems at all! I have fed like this for years. I have 16 healthy horses and 2 healthy minis. No founder or death here! To each their own but you certainly won’t hear me bashing you for only feeding grass hay.

  18. All horses are different and have different needs. Starved horses must be brought back on alfalfa hay because it’s very low in sugar. To say that any certain hay would never be fed could short change an animal that needs what is required. I’ve always speak to a vet before making any rash changes in an animals diet.

  19. All this is very nice but the only hay I can get in this part of the country is Alfalfa and Bermuda.
    Coastal Bermuda is ignored in any treatise on hay types in just about everything I read.
    So what is your input on this type of hay?

  20. Alfalfa hay is a good hay source but it is a high energy hay so it can make a horse a little fresh. If you are just starting to feed alfalfa you should give small quantities first so you don’t colic your horse. Also alfalfa isn’t a cheap hay coastal is a good bit cheaper

  21. I have a 2, maybe 3 acre pasture that desperately needs to be overhauled. I’m thinking I’ll just plow it over several times and then plant a better mix of forage. I only have 1 horse and he is NOT an easy keeper and I’m located in Central Texas.
    I want to try and plant a good mix of different forage types but which ones do I plant? I know I could just go and buy “pasture mix” but are those enough or is it better for me to create my own mix?

    1. Hello Amy,

      Thanks for the question. Creating the ideal pasture for your land, climate, and horses can be a challenge. Since this isn’t our specific area of expertise here at Nutrena, we would suggest you visit with your local ag extension office, or check with your local feed store to see if they have a seed company rep that you could work with directly.

      Thank you ~ Emily L.

  22. Hi and thank you for your article. I feed a forage diet ( as nature intended) and I am forever a fan. Most people are astonished when I discuss forage and just how easy it is to feed your horse simply and healthy. I receive many compliments and I never fail to mention his diet. Education is key. Quit feeding manufactured crap and your horse will thrive!

  23. I ran across this piece while searching for whether seed heads on Timothy cause any kind of problems with horses. I had to laugh over the fear mongering of Alfalfa. AND IT’S CHEAPER??? LOLOLOL! Please tell me where I can find good quality Alfalfa for under 25 bucks a bale. Not the crap in Tractor supply that’s all stems but actual, leafy, beautiful Alfalfa. I have a 40 year old Appy who has refused to eat any other type of hay for 20 years! He has never turned “mean”, NEVER EVER had a case of colic and his weight is spectacular. I supplements to with Triple Crown Senior feed, Vitamin E, joint supplements and Red Cell. Because he’s old. He also has cushings and I tried to switch him to every other hay for lower sugar. Good luck. I soak it and he is not happy but will eat it. Alfalfa is my hay of choice because of higher protein. I have retired, rescued horses and they need it.

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