All types of clover are considered a legume hay, or hay that tends to have higher levels of nutrients than grass hays (besides legume, hay can also be classified as grass or cereal grain straw). Though alfalfa hay is the more popular legume choice, clover is just as good as hay and does not have as high a level of calcium as alfalfa or cause as much urination. There are many types of clover, such as white, red and sweetclover.
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Red clover, or Trifolium pretence, is a biennial type of legume (grows for two years before dying off, though it will not die off if it is allowed to reseed) that is originally from Asia and Europe and is now found all over the United States.
How to Identify
On a red clover plant, you will see three leaflets on each stem with smooth edges. The entire plant will have a hairy texture, and the leaves are often marked with white "V" shapes. The plant's flowers range in colour from red to purple.
Clover is often found in pastures and hay mixes (it is very hard to have a straight clover hay) due to the amount of protein and fibre the plants contain. Horses also enjoy eating clover, and clover plants provide a lot more energy than other feed sources due to the energy being more acceptable to the horse's digestive system. Due to the additional protein, clover may be a good choice to feed to young horses, pregnant and lactating mares and horses in heavy training and competition.
If clover moulds, it can cause several health problems, such as toxicity or irregular reproductive cycles in mares. You can avoid mould by mowing the clover or not allowing your horse to eat on pastures planted in clover when you have had a lot of rain or the humidity has been high. Hay farmers can avoid mould in hay by allowing the red clover more time to dry thoroughly than may be needed to dry other hay species.
Less Serious Problems
If you choose to feed red clover to your horse, or plant it in your fields, be aware that there are a couple of issues that can develop from ingesting certain chemicals produced in the clover. Only mouldy clover produces the slaframine that causes "slobbers" where horses salivate far beyond normal. Also, it has been observed that the porphyrins in clover can cause your horse's urine to have a reddish colour. Neither of these problems is particularly worrisome.
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