Regardless of the age and workload of each horse, a balanced diet is best obtained by feeding a mix of different types of hays. Roughage, including traditionally baled hay and convenient pelleted feeds, can provide horses with most of their nutritional requirements, but care must be used when selecting the best combination for each horse. In general, a leguminous hay such as alfalfa should be mixed with a grass such as Bermuda hay. The specific circumstances of each horse will determine the proper percentages of each hay type.
Legumes, such as alfalfa, are rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals, yet have lower amounts of other specific compounds (such as methionine) found in higher concentrations in grasses like Bermuda hay. For all but the most active horses, lactating mares and/or foals, pure alfalfa hay provides far more energy than less active horses require, often leading to weight gain if fed free choice.
Grasses such as Bermuda hay are higher in fiber and contain lower percentages of protein, making them more suited to meet the nutritional needs of lighter duty or older horses. These grasses, however, are generally not high enough in many important vitamins and minerals to serve as a stand alone feed. Instead, they should be mixed with an appropriate percentage of leguminous hay and/or other types of supplemental feeds.
The higher the nutritional and energetic needs of your horse, the more leguminous hay they will require in their diet. Weight gain is a sure sign that your horse is ingesting more energy than needed. Hard working horses or those with high caloric demands, such as lactating mares, may require the majority of their roughage to be leguminous.
Providing horse owners three different types of pelleted feeds to meet the needs of every horse can simplify the process of selecting the most appropriate mix of hays. While the owner does have the option to purchase a pellet composed of pure alfalfa hay (with added nutritional supplements) in addition to a mix including both alfalfa and Bermuda hay, some may choose to feed traditionally baled grass hay which can be obtained locally and use the pure alfalfa pellets as a super boost to the horse’s diet.