What Is the Difference between Alfalfa and Grass Hay?

Alfalfa hay is a type of grass hay that is usually used for horses. It has a high concentration of nutrients, including protein and fiber. It is also low in sugar and contains more fiber than other types of hay. Grass hay, on the other hand, is used for cows and other livestock. It has a lower concentration of nutrients than alfalfa hay, but it contains more vitamins and minerals.

Hay is an agricultural crop that is used for livestock feed and bedding. It is made up of the dried stems and leaves of plants such as oat, barley, or wheat. It is low in calories, high in fiber, making it a healthy option for animals. Hay can also be used as a composting agent to help break down organic matter. 

Hay is a healthy and easy way to feed your farm animals. It is typically fed to horses, cows, goats, and sheep. It is also widely used as a bedding material for animals.

How Can You Make Your Own Hay?

Making your own hay is a great way to ensure that you have a quality and affordable source of feed for your livestock. There are several ways to make your own hay, but the most common methods involve bailing or stacking the hay. In order to make good quality hay, you will need to select the right grasses, mow them at the right height, and dry them properly.

You can make your own hay by drying grass or other plants in the sunshine or by warming it in an oven. 

The most important thing to remember when making your own hay is that you should not let it dry out or be too hot. You can also make your own hay by placing it in a baler and letting the machine do the work for you. 

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Types of Hay

Hay is a grass that is cut and dried for animal feed or as fodder for livestock. There are various types of hay, depending on the climate and region where it is grown. Hay can be used to feed cows, horses, sheep, and other animals. It can also be used as mulch or compost.

Although many types of hay are available, most hay falls within one of two categories: legumes or grasses. The most common legume hay in the United States is lucerne hay. On the other hand, timothy and orchard are the most popular grass hay options. Although they are not as nutritious as grass hays, there are also cereal grain hays like oat or barley. Geographic factors play an essential role in choosing suitable hay for your pet. Alfalfa, timothy, and orchard grass hays have a lot of popularity in Kentucky. In the Southern U.S., coastal Bermuda grass hay is more popular.

Which Type of Hay Is Better for Your Pet?

Many factors can affect the nutritional profile of different types of Hay, including fiber, protein, and mineral composition. Here are some terms that are commonly used in evaluating hay.

Crude Protein

Hay protein levels can vary depending on what kind of hay was used and when it was harvested. Higher protein levels will be achieved if the hay is cut earlier than expected. The protein levels in grass hay can vary from 8% to 14% and 15 to 22% for legumes (alfalfa hay). Pets undergoing training will need more protein to support muscle development and replace the nitrogen lost through exercise.

Digestible Energy

Digestible Energy is measured in mega calories. Most hays usually range between 0.76 and 0.94 Mcal/lb DE. For a horse of average size, the daily DE requirements can be anywhere from 20 Mcals/lb (minimal care) to 34.5 Mcals/lb for horses who are in heavy training.


Hay moisture should be between 10% and 17%. Hay below 10% could be dry, brittle, and dusty. Hay with a higher than 18% moisture content is at high risk of mold growth. Hay with a greater than 25% moisture content can pose a fire risk.

Calcium and Phosphorus

The balance between these minerals is essential, as they work together. Horses should have a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of between 3 and 1. This means that a horse should consume at least the same amount of calcium as phosphorus and never the other way around.

Non-Structural Carbohydrates 

This term refers to the sugar and starch in the hay. Non-Structural Carbohydrates or NSCs are vital because these are carbohydrates that are broken down into glucose and then absorbed into the bloodstream.

Alfalfa vs. Grass Hay

Now that you have a basic understanding of what these terms mean let’s look at some differences between grass hay and alfalfa. These will help you choose the right hay for your pet.

Higher Energy Content

Alfalfa hays and grass hays have different energy contents. Alfalfa hay has more calories per pound compared to grass hay. Your pet may need to eat less Alfalfa Hay to maintain weight. The fiber content of the hay plays a role in this difference. Alfalfa hay has lower fiber than grass hay, which allows them to eat more hay without adding weight. People who wish to decrease the pet’s calorie intake will often feed grass hay rather than alfalfa.

Higher Protein Content

The protein content is one of the most significant differences between grass hay and alfalfa. Alfalfa hay has a higher protein content, with an average of 15% to 21%, depending upon when it was cut. This is significantly higher than grass hay’s protein levels, which usually contain 10% to 15%. 

Higher Calcium Levels

The mineral profile is another significant difference between grass hay and alfalfa. The mineral profile of alfalfa hay is more calcium-rich than grass hay. However, the phosphorus content is usually not much different between the hays. The mineral content of all hays is subject to variation depending on where it was grown and the soil conditions.

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Grass Hay for Horses

Grass hay has a lower protein content than alfalfa hay. Grass hay also contains a lower energy content than alfalfa hay. Because of its lower protein and energy levels, grass hay is preferred by many horse owners, particularly mature horses, and non-working horses. Senior horses will often prefer grass hay because it is easier on their kidneys and easier to chew.

Grass hay is an excellent choice for horses who are prone to weight gain or have difficulty keeping their weight down. This includes ponies and miniature horses. Grass hay can be an excellent choice for easy keepers due to its high fiber content. It can also satisfy horses’ appetites without adding calories or protein.

Alfalfa Hay has higher nutritional values, but grass hay is generally lower in calcium. This makes it closer to a desirable Ca:P ratio (between 3 and 1). It is also less dusty than alfalfa, making it an excellent choice for horses with respiratory problems. The potential danger of blister bugs is not present in grass hay, unlike alfalfa.

Here is a list of some of the most popular grass hays: 

Timothy Hay

Timothy hay has high fiber content and is generally easy to digest. Although it costs more than other grass-hays, it also has higher nutrients.

Orchard Grass Hay

Orchard grass is less nutrient-sensitive than other grass hays when cutting and is also cheaper than timothy.

Oat Hay

Oat hay is tougher than other hay, and some horses won’t eat it. Oat hay is higher in nitrates than other types of hay and is therefore not recommended for horses with insulin resistance.

Bermuda Grass Hay

Bermuda grass hay tends to be less expensive than either timothy hay or orchard. Some horses may be affected by Bermuda grass hay of lower quality. 

Although grass hay has lower relative nutrition, it is still a filler. However, it does contain more carbohydrates. It is, therefore, more dangerous for horses with obesity or laminitis to eat grass hay and not alfalfa. Although this is counterintuitive for horse owners, it is something you should keep in mind when caring for your horse.

Although grass hay has lower overall nutrition than alfalfa, this makes them ideal for filling horses up and keeping them full while also meeting their nutritional needs. Although grass hay has a lower content of protein and calcium, it can still be a good source of feed for horses.

Related Post – What are Grassland Plant Adaptations?

Final Words

The main differences between regular grass and Alfalfa hay are protein, fiber, and the calcium to phosphorus ratio. Each one offers its own benefits, from increased calories and protein with Alfalfa to easier digestion in grass hay. 

There are pros and cons to each type of hay. This is why it is possible to have a mix of grass and alfalfa hay that best suits your pets’ needs.

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