Alfalfa Chaff vs. Pellets: Can Form Affect Gastric Ulcers?

Alfalfa products with smaller particle sizes appear to be more effective in helping limit gastric lesion formation.
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Alfalfa Chaff vs. Pellets: Can Form Affect Gastric Ulcers?
Alfalfa products with smaller particle sizes appear to be more beneficial in terms of helping limit gastric lesion formation. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
Alfalfa is a popular forage choice among horse owners for a variety of reasons. It comes in a variety of forms (such as hay, pellets, chaff, and cubes), delivers more nutrients than a grass hay, and has been shown to benefit horses suffering from gastric ulcers due to its natural buffering capacity.

However, little information exists on how alfalfa particle size affects the horse’s stomach. So, researchers from the University of Leipzig, in Germany, set out to investigate the effects of feeding two forms of alfalfa with different particle sizes versus a grass hay on weanlings’ gastric mucosa.

Prior to weaning, the team, led by Ingrid Vervuert, PhD, DVM, an assistant professor of veterinary medicine, introduced 39 male and 31 female Warmblood foals to a diet consisting of 3 kilograms (about 6.6 pounds) of alfalfa chaff, 3 kilograms alfalfa pellets, or ad libitum grass hay. The team provided all the foals with a special mix of oats, soybean meal, and/or a mineral supplement to ensure each treatment group had a similar nutrient intake. The team performed gastroscopies on the foals prior to weaning and after 16 days on their treatment diet to determine gastric ulcer prevalence and where the ulcers occurred within the stomach

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Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen has been a performance horse nutritionist for an industry feed manufacturer for more than a decade. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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