How you feed alfalfa cubes to your horse depends on why you're feeding them. For older horses with dentition issues who are no longer able to consume hay, soaked alfalfa cubes are a good substitute. Horses with hay allergies can eat alfalfa cubes with no dusty residue. If hay is scarce in your area, or of questionable quality, adding alfalfa cubes to the menu ensures your equines receive suitable forage. Storing bags of alfalfa cubes takes up much less space than comparably sized hay bales. However, in most parts of the country, except the West, it's probably more expensive to feed alfalfa cubes as the primary forage source.
One caveat: Horses fed only alfalfa cubes and no other form of forage, such as hay or grass, might look elsewhere to find sufficient fiber. That might include fencing or stall walls. Dr. Sarah Ralston, an equine science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, states "there was a dramatic increase in the incidence of wood chewing in every study," conducted using cubes as a sole forage source. Ralston recommends supplementing cubes with hay or even straw to reduce wood chewing.
Alfalfa hay and alfalfa cubes are almost nutritionally identical. Alfalfa hay contains 90 percent dry matter, while the cubes contain 91 percent. The percentage of crude protein in the hay is 19.9 percent, while it's 18.8 percent in a comparable amount of the cubes. The calcium and phosphorous levels of hay were 1.28 percent and .021 percent, respectively, while the levels in cubes were 1.46 percent and 0.25 percent.
If straight alfalfa cubes are too rich for your horse, purchase an alfalfa-timothy mix, generally available at the same retailers.
Amount to Feed
The amount of cubes a horse should receive daily depends on whether or not they are his only source of forage, along with an individual animal's nutritional requirements. The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension recommends that an 1,100 pound mature horse whose sole forage source is alfalfa cubes receive 17 to 18 pounds daily as a maintenance amount. If he's only in light work, reduce the amount to 15 to 16 pounds daily. A broodmare nearing the end of her gestation should receive approximately 15 pounds of cubes per day, while a 6-month-old weanling who eventually will weigh 1,100 pounds but now weighs just half that should receive 8 to 9 pounds daily.
Soaking Alfalfa Cubes
Although alfalfa cubes can be fed straight, it's not always a good idea. Horses can choke on the cubes, and older equines with few teeth are especially vulnerable. Soaking them in a bucket of water before feeding is your best bet. It has the added benefit of providing your horse with extra hydration. Most of the year, the cubes will soak sufficiently into an easily eaten mush within 15 minutes or so. In the winter, when many folks feed alfalfa cubes to give their horses additional fiber, cubes can take much longer to soften, and may not soften much at all in very cold temperatures. If possible, allow cubes to soak in a heated area -- such as a barn office or tack room -- in subfreezing weather.