Can I Feed My Horse Unsoaked Alfalfa Pellets?
Q. Is it necessary to soak alfalfa pellets before you feed them, or can you add them the grain without water? What are the risks and benefits of feeding dry alfalfa pellets?
A. Alfalfa is a nutrient-dense legume that is a popular forage choice for many horse owners. Alfalfa is generally higher in digestible energy, protein, and minerals than other forages when harvested at the same stage of maturity. It also tends to be lower in water-soluble and ethanol-soluble carbohydrates than most grasses. Alfalfa can be fed as long-stem hay or alternatively as cubes or pellets. Alfalfa cubes and pellets are the long-stem form of alfalfa that is finely chopped and compressed.
Feeding alfalfa in pelleted form can be beneficial for a variety of reasons. Alfalfa pellets are widely available and tend to be consistent in quality. Due to their size and shape, pellets are easy to transport, store, and mix with concentrate feeds. They are also low-dust and, thus, ideal for horses that have allergies or respiratory issues. However, alfalfa pellets are very dense due to the compression of the small particles during the pelleting process and could provide challenges with chewing and swallowing for some animals.
Soaking alfalfa pellets is not necessary for most horses but could be required for animals with dental issues, no teeth, or reduced chewing ability. Soaking might also be a good idea for horses prone to choke or that bolt their feed. Pellets can be consumed quickly with minimal chewing so when a horse has dental issues that cause
s him or her pain, lacks molars to grind food against, or eats rapidly, they could be swallowing whole pellets instead of ones that have been chewed properly. This can result in feed lodging in the esophagus and cause a choking situation. I also recommend soaking pellets when you first introduce them into the ration and then gradually tapering off the soak time until you can offer them dry.
Soaking alfalfa pellets until they begin to break apart will soften the pellet, making them easier for the horse to chew and swallow. How much water you add and the length of time you soak the pellet will determine how soft the pellet gets. Many manufacturers have soaking instructions listed on the bag but if not, a good rule of thumb is to completely submerge the pellets you plan to feed in warm water for 30 minutes or until the desired consistency is achieved. Unfortunately, this extra step and added time to your feeding routine can be a major drawback to soaking alfalfa pellets.
Feeding pelleted alfalfa is popular among horse owners due to its versatile pellet form and excellent nutrient profile. You do not have to soak alfalfa pellets prior to feeding, but taking the extra time to do so could be beneficial for horses with dental issues, aggressive eaters, or when you’re first introducing alfalfa pellets into the ration.
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