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By Dr. Peter Huntington · April 15, 2011
There are some differences between lucerne (alfalfa) and grass hay or oat chaff, but they all serve the same purpose of being vital fibre sources for horses. If you are fortunate enough to have a choice of forages, the decision of which type to feed should be based on what you are trying to achieve with the horse.
The major differences between a grass type forage (including oat and wheat chaff) and a legume (lucerne and clover) are energy, protein, and calcium content.
The fibre found in forages is digested by the microbial population of the hindgut to produce energy for the horse. There are forms of digestible fibre and indigestible fibre found in any plant. The higher the percentage digestible fibre and the lower the indigestible fibre, the more energy there is in that forage. There tends to be more digestible fibre in the leafy portion of the plant and more indigestible fibre in the stem. So, forage with more leaf and less stem will provide the horse more digestible energy.
Lucerne that is harvested at the right time and handled carefully after harvesting will have a lot of very digestible leaves with some stem, and thus it is very high in energy. A poorly made lucerne will have more stems than leaves and will have less energy. The same goes for the harvesting of grass hay; the earlier in its growth it is harvested, the more leaf it will have and the better quality it will be...
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