Can I Feed My Horse Unsoaked Alfalfa Pellets?

Certain groups of horses can benefit from eating soaked alfalfa pellets, which are the finely chopped and compressed form of the nutrient-dense legume.

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alfalfa pellets
Soaking alfalfa pellets can make them easier for horses to chew and swallow. | Getty images

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 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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Written by:

Masa Williams, MS, PhD, says her lifelong love of horses and her insatiable need to ask “why” led her down the path to becoming an equine nutritionist. Prior to joining Land O’ Lakes, Williams spent 10 years as an equine specialist with Ohio State University Extension and teaching equine classes at The Ohio State University. In her current role Masa enjoys working with team members in research, formulation, manufacturing, and sales to bring the highest quality product available to customers and their horses. Masa says she can think of no better place to be where she can combine her passion for horses, teaching, and applied nutrition. Masa earned her BS in animal science from the University of Arkansas, her MS in animal nutrition from the University of Kentucky, and her PhD in animal nutrition from The Ohio State University. Masa’s doctorate research focused on the effects of energy source and amount on nutrient digestibility and prediction of digestible energy in horses.

5 Responses

  1. I have been feeding my horse “Packer Pellets” from International Farmers Association (IFA).
    Do you have any knowledge or information about this product? It was recommended to help maintain his weight. He is a 29 year old Quarter-horse.
    Thank you

  2. Thanks for the tips. I’ve found the alfalfa pellets are softer than regular hay pellets. While I soak the larger ration for hay replacement (it only takes 5minutes to soften and fluffwith very hot water ) I can scatter a few handfuls around the stall to simulate foraging without a risk of choke. I find them more convenient safer, and easier for my horse to chew/gum than Alf cubes, which always require soaking for my senior horses with poor dentition in my opinion.

  3. Just recently spent a horrific week when my mare choked on 1/2” hay pellets. I had been adding a small amount of water but not enough! She has recovered and now I add a gallon of water to her bucket . I also spread it out in two feed pans so she can’t get such huge mouthfuls.

  4. I have been using 1/4 inch pellets which absorb water much more quickly than the 1/2 inch alfalfa pellet. Is this ok? My 25 y/o QH seems to like it just fine and his weight has remained good. I feed approx 14 lb a day.

  5. Thanks for the advice. How much would you recommend feeding a 1500 pound ,14 year old Standardbred?

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