Differences between types of hay? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 02-04-2009, 09:11 AM Thread Starter
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Differences between types of hay?

I've been curious for a while what various differences there are in varying types of hay... I've heard of Timothy, Bermuda, Fescue. The most popular choice (at least in my area) tends to be Timothy. Why is this? What's better about one and bad about the other?

If any of you know of an article or web page that talks about this, that would be great! Or, just share your personal knowledge/experience.
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post #2 of 10 Old 02-04-2009, 12:02 PM
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What you get in a particular area depends a lot on your growing season and where you live. I'm right on the coast of British Columbia and most of the local hay is a grass mix. There might be a bit of Timothy, canary and Fescue in it. In the interior of British Columbia their summers are hot and dry, most of our alfalfa comes from there or from Alberta. Bermuda is unheard of up here.

The cuts make a big difference as well. First cut, here anyways, has more weeds and tends to be higher in sugar. Second cut is our best. IF we can get a third cut off it's late fall and again the sugar tends to be higher. We stock up for the winter as soon as the 2nd cut comes off.

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post #3 of 10 Old 02-04-2009, 12:04 PM
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I think it depends a lot on where you live. The most popular types of hay in my area are timothy and orchard grass (and of course, alfalfa, but that usually used as little extra). Tall fescue as far as i know is not very tasty for the horses and is bad for the pregnant mares. I heard about brome (spell?) grass in the area, but I've never seen it on sale around. I believe bermuda grass goes mostly in south states (correct me if I'm wrong ). I wish I could find some around because I heard it stays dry summer really nice. Some people also plant (don't do hay though, just for pasture) kentucky blue grass.

I do remember looking at comparison chart for different types of hay and say timothy and orchard are close in vitamins/minerals/protein %. Alfalfa and clover are high in protein, so people just mix some in to put weight on or in cold weather (like I add some on cold nights in winter).

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post #4 of 10 Old 02-04-2009, 01:33 PM
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Originally Posted by kitten_Val View Post
Tall fescue as far as i know is not very tasty for the horses and is bad for the pregnant mares.

Good point Kitten, although, there are different types of tall fescue and not all are infected with the Endophyte fungus. There's turf type and forage type fescue.
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post #5 of 10 Old 02-04-2009, 01:41 PM
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Grass hays are also considered more safe to feed and can be fed to horses continuously, that way the horse has hay accessible to them at most all times (better for them), but you can't feed alfalfa free-choice (too rich).
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post #6 of 10 Old 02-04-2009, 02:58 PM
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I was always wondering about alfalfa though.. In my area farmers do alfalfa 4-5-6 times during Spring - Fall... I know the first couple cuts are really reach, but what about those 4, 5, 6th cuts? I tried to find any info, but without success. I must admit my horses love alfalfa (I give a small flake each for the night this time of the year).

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post #7 of 10 Old 02-04-2009, 11:33 PM
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Here in Kansas our grass hay comes from the Prairie grasses. Big and Small Bluestem are 2 of the native grasses here. Brome is also available, it is richer in protein and a nice step up from prairie hay. Alfalfa needs to be free of blister beetles<I forget which cutting cuz I don't use it>. There is no Timothy or Kentucky Bluegrass hay grown here.

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post #8 of 10 Old 02-05-2009, 01:09 PM
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Both of our horse's and all their brother's and sister's were raised on an alfalfa/grass mix, about 30-40% alfalfa. They are feed four times a day, no grain at all except if a mare foaled. The oldest one still around is 24-25, you should see this guy he looks great.
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post #9 of 10 Old 02-05-2009, 02:37 PM
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My horses have almost always gotten just grass hay, which is what the barn owner grows and then just cuts in the Fall. He doesn't reseed or anything - just lets it grow as it will, then cuts it and bails it into square bails. He did have an alfalfa field that he would grow, but I think he just turned it into grass hay. I can say that alfalfa is very rich and can give a horse lots of energy, which is why we wouldn't give it to the younger horses we were trying to train because it made them too frisky. We planted a mix of things at my house. It's mostly Kentucky Fescue, Timothy, Orchardgrass, Red Clover, and some other Fescue, although I can't remember at the moment. It's Southern States "Horse Pasture Mixture" or whatever and we had a landscaping company plant it for us. Its BEAUTIFUL in the spring and the deer LOVE it.


Mommy to Minnie, Lilly, and Tanner.
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post #10 of 10 Old 02-06-2009, 01:02 PM
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The main differences are the nutritional value and amount of calories/sugars.
Alfalfa is rich in protein and is imbalanced in the amount of calcium it carries, so it shouldn't ever be the sole food for any horse (it's actually a legume). It's high in calories, so is not suitable for overweight horses or "easy keepers' as obesity can be a factor in laminitis. And because it's calorie dense and shouldn't be fed in large quantities, this could leave a horse bored from lack of "chew time" if he's stalled.
Fescue, with the fungus or not, is not a great choice for horses. It's super high in sugar (it even affects cows with "fescue foot" ) Its a hardy grass, tolerant to traffic and overgrazing, and it's fattening. However, the sugar content is another reason to avoid feeding it if you can, or at least feed with other less rich hays.
Brome is pretty good. It's one of the higher sugar hays, but is better than fescue.
Orchard grass is also one of the higher sugar hays.
Timothy is about the best "single" hay, in that it's higher in fiber, has a bit less sugar. Still, it's best to mix and match your forages, regardless and not feed a single grass, as that would be as imbalanced as you only eating cheerios day in and out.
Bermuda hay is great. It's low sugar, so perfect for lamintic horses.

That's a sampling. And of course, the amount of starchy sugars can vary within a type of hay, due to weather, time of day, etc. The best thing is to have your hay sampled to see what is in each batch, and you can supplement whatever nutrients are lacking. Remember, variety is important. A small amount of any of the "richer" hays is fine, if balanced with the more filling," lower octane", and may eliminate the need for supplements. If your horse isn't getting enough calories from hay, you can try feeding the richer hays before resorting to grain.

There are also forage alternatives, but that's another ball of wax.
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