Sun Cured/Dehydrated Alfalfa

In 2005, feed regulatory officials were informed that sun-cured alfalfa products might be used in products labeled as dehydrated alfalfa, thereby substituting a product of possibly inferior nutritional quality to unsuspecting consumers. This prompted an investigation into the distinction between sun-cured and dehydrated alfalfa products, and whether the processing method makes any difference to your horse.

The main difference between the two products is the method by which water is removed. Sun-cured, baled alfalfa is ground, then steam processed to about 100ºF before it is pressed into dyes to form the finished pellet.

Dehydrated alfalfa is partially dried outdoors, then chopped and immediately taken to the plant, where it goes through rotating drums at high temperatures to drive off moisture. Alfalfa cubes are made by pressing chopped material into cubes after dehydration.

Which method is best depends on climatic conditions. It's easier to make high-quality sun-cured alfalfa products in the western United States, with its low rainfall and humidity. Dehydration products are made mostly in the East, where a rainy, humid climate makes this the only dependable process for best quality.

The speed and high heat of dehydration might preserve more vitamins and make protein more digestible. But whether it matters to your horse depends on his dietary needs. If he grazes green forage and eats high-quality hay or a broad-spectrum vitamin supplement, the differences in alfalfa processing might be of no consequence.

To optimize vitamin and digestible protein in a ration that is low in these nutrients, pick an alfalfa product that is bright green and smells like freshly mown hay.

About the Author

Kathryn Watts, BS

Kathryn Watts, BS, is the director of research for Rocky Mountain Research and Consulting and a passionate forage researcher. Her web site is www.safergrass.org.

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