“Early cut and high-quality alfalfa unquestionably is the best forage the horse enthusiast can use,” says Neal Martin.

Less than 20 years ago, mature grass hay was thought to be the best horse hay, says Martin, director of the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, Madison, WI. Horses fed high-quality alfalfa were thought to develop problems such as slobbering and damaged kidneys. But research has proved otherwise.

“The horse is a difficult animal to feed properly because of how its stomach is constructed and used,” says Martin. “In contrast to ruminants, horses have a single, comparatively small stomach with limited capacity and a rapid rate of passage for feed.”

Horses' stomachs can't tolerate mold or dust, and horses can't effectively use low-quality hay that is high in fiber because it stays in the digestive tract too long.

By buying early cut alfalfa hay, horse owners can mix alfalfa with high-quality grass hay to regulate protein levels for the various types of horses, without changing their grain mixture, says Martin.

For more information, get the Alfalfa Council publication, Alfalfa: The High-Quality Hay For Horses. Call 816-891-0579 or log on to www.alfalfa.org to order online. The price: 35¢ each.