Types Of Hay For Horses

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Hay is for horses! All kinds of hay! Wait- there’s more than one? Surprisingly, there are many different types of horse hay! Different kinds of hay have different nutrients and have different effects on a horse’s diet.

It’s important to know what kind of hay your horse eats and what effects it may be having on his digestion and his demeanor.  The same with different foods can affect our digestion, different types of hay can affect a horse’s digestion. And, when your digestion isn’t doing well, your demeanor is definitely affected.  The same can be said of horses!

Some of the most common kinds of hay are timothy hay, bermudagrass hay, oat hay, alfalfa hay, and clover and grass hay.  In this article, I’ll be discussing all of these different kinds of hay, their compositions, and the effect they will have on your horse’s diet.

Different Types Of Hay For Horses

Timothy Horse Hay

Depending on where you live, timothy hay can be hard to get a hold of.  If it has to be shipped long distances, it can be quite pricey.  But, if you’re lucky enough to live close to where timothy hay is grown, it can be a great option for your horses.

Timothy hay is classified as grass hay.  It is high in fiber and easy on a horse’s digestive tract.  It is known for being extremely high in nutrients, even among other grass hays, which is one of the reasons that it can be so expensive.

Timothy hay has lower protein levels and energy content, which means it is better to feed higher energy horses like Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods.  Lots of sport horse and training farms feed timothy hay.

And, it’s a great option for senior horses, or horses with temperamental digestive tracts since it is easier to digest and easier on their stomachs.

The best cut of timothy hay is typically the second cut. The first cut tends to have a lot of weeds, and cuts after the second cut tend to have fewer nutrients than the first and second cuts.

Bermudagrass Horse Hay

Bermudagrass hay is a commonly used hay in southern regions since bermudagrass hay only grows tall enough for a traditional cut in these regions. Farmers can typically get 4-5 cuts of bermudagrass hay a year.

Bermudagrass hay is extremely similar to timothy hay in its composition.  It is also considered grass hay and has low energy content and protein levels.  Again, this makes it an ideal choice for high-energy horses such as warmbloods and Thoroughbreds.

It is also easy for horses to digest, making it a common choice for senior horses and horses with digestive issues, such as Thoroughbreds.

Bermudagrass hay tends to be less expensive than timothy hay because it is easier to find and easier to transport.

Orchard Grass Hay

Another popular grass hay is orchard grass hay.  Orchardgrass horse hay is easier to harvest than Bermudagrass and Timothy hays, and it, therefore, tends to be cheaper.  Orchardgrass hay is known for being easy to cut in almost any season.

It maintains the same nutrients no matter which cut, or when the cuts occur.  It is also easier to maintain and grow, so is more abundant.

Similar to Bermudagrass hay and Timothy hay, Orchard grass hay has low energy content and protein levels, so it is a popular choice among show and training barns that house breeds like warmbloods and Thoroughbreds.

Also similar to Timothy hay and Bermudagrass hay, it is easy for horses to digest and is, therefore, a popular choice among barns with senior horses or race barns that house Thoroughbreds with sensitive digestive tracts.

Oat Hay

Oat hay is known for being especially low in protein, but high in sugar content.  It also sometimes has thicker, tougher stalks that horses are not accustomed to.  This could dissuade pickier eaters from enjoying their hay like they normally do.

While oat hay is low in protein, it is high in sugar.  So, being low in protein is a good thing for high energy horses, but being high in sugar is a bad thing for high energy horses or horses that have sensitivities to sugar in their diets.

Oat hay can be a good option for some horses, but a bad option for others.

Alfalfa Horse Hay

Alfalfa hay is not considered grass hay.  It has much higher levels of protein and calcium, and lower levels of fiber.  Alfalfa hay is extremely easy to find and is the hay of choice at barns across the United States.  My horse eats solely alfalfa hay and hay cubes!

Alfalfa is grown all over the United States and is sold in all fifty states.  It’s easy to find and comes at a lower price point than grass hays. Alfalfa is higher in sugar content and starch than most grass hays, so it’s important to know your horse’s dietary restrictions before feeding Alfalfa.

Types of Hay for Horses - Alfalfa

For example, if your horse is insulin resistant or easily contracts laminitis, Alfalfa may not be the best choice for you.  If you’re questioning whether this may be the case or not, always consult your vet. He should be able to give you easy answers over the phone!

Conclusion

Who knew there were so many different types of hay! Depending on your horse and his dietary needs, some hays will be good for him, and others will be less beneficial.  It’s good to know what type of hay your horse is eating, in case it could be causing some underlying issues (or some positive ones!).

Either way, being informed is always your best option.  If you have any concerns about your horse’s hay and its relationship to his health, always consult your vet.  Vets are experts in equine digestion and diet, and they will know the best ways to help your particular situation.

I hope this article helped you learn more about the different types of hay! If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences feeding these different kinds of hay!

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