Horses need hay, it is the mainstay of their diet. But what kind of hay is best for your horse? That depends on their breeding and workload. The hay most commonly fed to horses in this part of the country (Pacific Northwest) is Timothy, but Alfalfa, Orchard Grass and Teff hay are also on the menu for many horses. Aside from the Alfalfa that is a legume hay, the remainder are grass hays (either cool or warm season grasses) and, while they possess similar properties, the nutrient content varies greatly between them. A lot of people have never heard of Teff Hay, and unless you have one of those “easy-keeper” breeds—you know the ones who become overweight on very little feed—then you probably have had very little reason to search it out. But there is value in it for a lot of horses, so let’s break it down:
Teff Hay (also known as summer lovegrass) is actually an ancient staple grain crop from Ethiopia that was originally grown for human consumption. In this country, it is grown for feeding to livestock, but it is also used as a valuable cover crop for potatoes. In horses, it is useful as a low carbohydrate forage with moderate amounts of protein and energy, although it is lower in digestible energy than other hays. Because of its lower sugar and starch levels, this hay is perfect for those “easy-keepers,” allowing you to feed more without the worry of unwanted weight gain and other metabolic symptoms. Teff Hay can be tricky to grow, however, and special care must be taken to ensure a robust, safe crop.
Teff contains a lower quality protein than other forages, and protein content and digestible energy levels rapidly decline after the boot stage of growth and between the first and second cuttings. Starch levels increase with late maturity so, unlike with other grass hays, you actually want first cutting and not second. Late maturity Teff hay does not meet the dietary energy and crude protein requirements of most horses. Teff hay contains low levels of key minerals, including zinc and copper, so it is important to balance these with supplementation to avoid deficiency. Because of its low non-structural carbohydrate level, first cutting Teff hay is considered a safe option for horses with metabolic conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, laminitis, EMS, PPID and PSSM. Fall grazing presents an increased risk for these horses, but research shows that horses grazing on Teff hay in the fall have lower blood sugar and insulin levels than horses consuming other forages, making it an ideal choice for horses experiencing metabolic issues.
There have been reports in other countries of some types of Teff hay containing synephrine, a naturally occurring alkaloid that can cause vasoconstriction, increased heart rate, and is known to affect the metabolism of body fat. If you are feeding Teff hay and your horse is in active competition, you should be aware that synephrine ingestion may lead to a positive drug test and it is listed as a banned substance on the FEI's Equine Prohibited Substances list.
In the US, Teff has become a valuable summer annual forage for livestock and commercial hay producers. It is also being planted as a rapidly growing, high-yielding cover crop. Teff grass cover crops are useful for suppressing weeds due to their fibrous root system, and the plant structure is excellent and doesn’t leave behind lumpy soil for successive crops. Teff also requires less maintenance, produces no seed, and is more tolerant of dry conditions. In this country, Idaho is considered to be a top producer of Teff hay, which is not surprising given they are also a major potato producer and Teff is an excellent cover crop for potatoes.
But there may be an inherent problem with sourcing Teff hay for your horses when that hay has been used as a cover crop for potatoes. Less than 1% of the potatoes grown in this country are classified as “organic.” Non-organic crops are exposed to a plethora of pesticides and herbicides throughout their lifetimes (the average potato contains more pesticides by weight than any other type of produce), and toxic residues from these chemicals can remain in the soil for months, even years. It makes sense then, that Teff hay harvested under these circumstances may carry a heavier toxic burden than hay grown strictly for feeding to livestock that has not been exposed to heavy pesticide residues, and therefore should be avoided. Source matters when it comes to hay, but especially Teff when it is grown as a potato cover crop.
The bottom line is that Teff hay, when grown and harvested correctly and balanced nutritionally, is a wonderful forage for horses of all breeds, but is especially useful in horses with metabolic issues. When searching for a source, look for first cutting, boot stage hay (no seed heads have erupted from the boot) grown specifically for feeding to horses and not hay grown as a cover crop for potatoes. Ask to see the hay analysis for that crop. You want to see a NSC level no higher than 10%-12% (starch + WSC = NSC), less than 10% for metabolically-challenged horses. Also look for crude protein between 8% - 14%, ADF less than 45% and NDF less than 65%.
No matter what kind of hay you feed your horse, if you are looking to balance key nutrients that are missing from their forage, Organic Black Cumin Seed Press Cake, Organic Flax Seed Press Cake, and Organic 5-Seed Press Cake from Evolved Remedies are the perfect whole superfood supplements you’ve been searching for. High in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and key phytonutrients, these Certified 100% Organic Seed Press Cakes deliver a new evolution of wellness for your horse and are an excellent way to round out and balance the forage in their diet.