Types Of Hay For Horses

Last Updated on December 26, 2022

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!


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!


Do horses need hay if they have grass?

That's a question many horse owners ask, and the answer is actually a bit complicated. In general, horses will eat hay even if they have access to fresh grass, but hay is not essential for their diet. Some horses can get all the nutrients they need from grazing on grass, while others may require hay as well to meet their nutritional needs.
One thing to keep in mind is that hay is a more concentrated source of nutrients than grass, so feeding hay along with access to grass can help ensure that your horse is getting the right balance of nutrients. If your horse isn't getting enough hay, he may start to lose weight and his coat may become dull.
So, do horses need hay? While hay isn't necessary for a horse's diet, some horses may benefit from hay as an additional source of nutrients.

What's the difference between straw and hay?

Straw is the dried stalks of cereal plants, such as wheat, rice, or barley. It is used mainly for bedding in animal stalls and as a fuel source.
Hay is made from the dried leaves and flowers of various hay plants. It is used as food for horses, cows, sheep, and other livestock.
So, hay is the better choice for providing nutrients to horses, while straw is better for bedding and fuel. However, both hay and straw have their uses, and horse owners should be familiar with both.

Can a horse live on hay alone?

The hay that's fed to horses has the most nutritional value when it is cut at the hay's peak ripeness. This hay contains higher levels of proteins, vitamins, and minerals than hay that is cut later in the hay making process. Therefore, hay can be a horse's only source of nutrition if it is given hay that is high in quality.
However, hay that is not high in quality can cause a horse to develop health problems. For example, hay that is low in protein can lead to a horse developing muscle atrophy. Horses also need hay that is high in fiber to keep their digestive system healthy.
In general, hay for horses should contain at least 18-20% crude protein and be no more than 70% moisture. It is also important to note that hay from different sources/vendors can vary in quality. It is a good idea to get hay from a few different sources so that you can determine which one is the best for your horses. It is important to always provide horses with hay that is high in quality so that they can stay healthy and perform at their best.

What crop of hay is best for horses?

There are three main crops of hay; orchard grass, timothy-grass or timothy, and bromegrass. Each crop contains different levels of proteins and sugars that will benefit horses differently.
Orchard grass is also known as tall fescue. It has a low protein level of 8%, but it contains very long stems which horses love to eat. This type of hay helps clean horses' teeth and prevents tooth decay and other oral issues.
Timothy-grass is the most common type of hay for horses. It has a protein level of 12%, and horses seem to love the taste. Timothy hay is also high in fiber, making it perfect for horses who need to lose weight or have digestive issues.
Bromegrass hay is the most nutrient-rich of the three types, with a protein level of 16%. This hay is also high in sugar, making it a good choice for horses who are working or competing. However, horses who are not very active should not eat too much bromegrass hay, as they could experience weight gain.