The quality protein and calcium levels in alfalfa mean that it is a natural fit for breeding and youngstock.
For breeds and types that are good doers, a stud balancer fed alongside the Alfa-A range supplies all the essential nutrients required for growth and development without the levels of starch that have been linked to DOD and that can result in over-exuberant behaviour. Feeding alfalfa alongside a traditional stud mix or cube encourages more chewing and therefore better digestion of the feed.
Studies suggest that as many as 50% of foals can develop stomach ulcers which is largely due to the foal’s stomach not being as developed and therefore more vulnerable to damage. Foals are secreting gastric acid by 2 days of age and so rely on the presence of milk in the stomach to provide protection against the acid. If for any reason they don’t suckle (estimates vary but it is suggested that foals can suckle up to 7 times an hour), the absence of milk leaves them vulnerable to ulcers. Foals that are poorly and so not suckling or those with dams that aren’t producing much milk are also at risk of ulcers. Weaning obviously removes the foal’s supply of milk and if they don’t take to the new diet then the stomach could be empty for a prolonged period. If possible, introducing feed prior to weaning will help to smooth the transition away from a milk based diet.
Stress is also a significant contributing factor in the development of ulcers which is unavoidable at the time of weaning. There have been some studies to show that chopped alfalfa is linked to the development of ulcers in the pyloric region of the weanling’s stomach. For this reason we would advocate using alfalfa pellets at the time of weaning to capitalise on the potential benefits of alfalfa as a natural buffer but to avoid the risk of ulcers in this specific area of the stomach.
Growth rate tends to be a combination of genetic factors and the plane of nutrition. Higher energy diets encourage a faster rate of growth and if insufficient nutrients are provided to support the rate of growth problems can occur. It is often assumed that the high protein level in Alfa-A is a reason not to feed it but actually, it usually only makes a small contribution to overall protein requirements as a scoop is only 400 grams so it is rare for youngstock to consume more than 1kg a day. It would also depend what else is being fed – compared to a stud mix or cube, Alfa-A is likely to be contributing much lower levels of energy, starch and protein. If your yearling is growing rapidly then a suitable diet would be a stud balancer which would provide essential nutrients without a significant amount of energy. This can usually be safely mixed with up to 1kg per day of Alfa-A Original or Alfa-A Lite. It may be necessary to remove the yearling from grazing if the grass quality is particularly good as this can again be a significant source of energy which might encourage a more rapid rate of growth.
Correct nutrition is key to successful breeding and it is important right from the point of conception. The right diet for your mare increases the chances of producing a sound, healthy foal with a long working life ahead of it.
It is a long standing joke that only fools breed horses as it is rarely a profitable venture and is hugely demanding on your time and energy. However if you have taken the decision to breed from your mare or are buying a youngster for the future, getting their nutrition right may help to avoid some of the potential pitfalls that can occur.
Dengie senior nutritionist Katie Williams, MSc (Dist), provides some handy advice to help keep your mare in blooming good health and in the best shape possible during her pregnancy.
Growth disorders in horses are caused by many factors, one of which is poor nutrition. We share some insights as to why it occurs and how to avoid it.
Feeding an alfalfa based fibre feed to your horse has several benefits as it provides essential nutrients with a low starch and sugar content.