Alfalfa Cubes: An Alternative Forage

Good quality forage is the basis of feeding programs for all horses. When hay is being fed, horse owners need to select a hay that is nutritious but also free of dust and mold. However, when mold-free hay is not available, horse owners can consider the use of alfalfa cubes as a viable forage alternative. The difference between alfalfa hay and the alfalfa cube is the size of the package. With the alfalfa, the forage is coarsely chopped and then mechanically compressed into a 1.25 by 2-inch cube. Therefore, when horse owners use alfalfa cubes in a diet for horses, the cubes replace hay of a similar quality on an equal basis.

The process of cubing the alfalfa does not affect the availability of nutrients to the horse. Research reports indicate that the availability of the energy and protein is the same in cubed as alfalfa hay.

It is important, however, for horse owners to control the feed intake of their horses when using alfalfa cubes as the forage source. Research conducted in Alberta, Canada, noted that the voluntary feed intake of mature horses was 20% greater with alfalfa cubes than with alfalfa hay. Horse owners that do not control the consumption of a high quality hay cube will have overweight horses or an increased incidence of digestive upset.

Because the forage is chopped prior to cubing, a common concern with horse owners is that their horses will eat faster and possibly develop bad habits such as wood chewing on a cube-based diet. Research at Colorado State University would suggest that other factors such as boredom and weather are responsible for horses developing the habit of wood chewing, not the use of cubed alfalfa as the forage.

Advantages of alfalfa cubes are reduced feed wastage, consistent nutrient quality, ease of handling, and allowing horse owners to regulate feed intake and reduce potential exposure to dust and mold. This latter advantage is important for horses with respiratory problems.

Disadvantages are that the cubes must be fed in a controlled manner to prevent overconsumption and there may be an additional cost due to the processing.

When all the advantages are considered, alfalfa cubes can provide horse owners with a high quality, nutritious, and convenient product that is a viable alternative to hay in feeding programs for their horses.

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