Study Evaluates Horses' Voluntary Consumption of Teff Hay

Some horse owners in drought-affected states have been searching high and low for affordable forage for their horses. To that end, one research team recently completed a study evaluating an alternative type of grass hay that could be a viable option for some equids: teff hay.

Teff is a relatively new type of warm season grass in the United States and is capable of producing large hay yields in a short period of time, making it an attractive option for horse owners in need of forage. To date, however, no researchers had compared its acceptability versus that of legumes and cool season grass hays. Thus, Laurie Lawrence, PhD, professor in the department of animal and food sciences at the University of Kentucky, led a two-part study aimed at a) determining if horses would consume teff hay as readily as timothy or alfalfa, and b) comparing intake levels of teff and timothy hay.

In the first part of the study, the research team evaluated eight adult mares' preference for two different teff hay maturities and comparable alfalfa and timothy maturities. Researchers provided the horses with approximately 4 kg (just shy of 9 lbs) of two different hays--teff and either alfalfa or timothy--in separate hay nets for one hour. Then, the researchers measured the remaining hay to determine how much of each the horse had consumed.

The team found that horses showed a preference for the alfalfa and timothy hays over teff hay offered. Of the two varieties of teff offered, horses preferred less mature opposed to more mature.

In the second part of the study, the team evaluated eight adult mares' teff hay intake as compared to timothy hay of the same maturity. They randomly assigned each mare a hay type and fed that type (the mares did not act as their own controls) for 17 days at 2% body weight (or greater). During the last 10 days the researchers calculated the mares' voluntary dry matter intake.

Interestingly, the team found no difference in voluntary dry matter intake between timothy and teff hay; however, horses consuming the teff hay lost an average of 9.75 kg (22.5 lbs) of weight over the course of the study.

The researchers concluded that horses will select against teff hay when given a choice of consuming teff hay versus alfalfa or timothy. However, teff hay intake was no different than timothy hay intake, but horses consuming the forage lost an average of more than 20 pounds during the study. This suggests that teff hay might be an appropriate option to feed overweight horses or those with lower nutrient requirements.

The authors' noted that the teff hay in this study was not harvested in early maturity when nutrient content, and possibly palatability, might have been highest. They noted further research is needed to compare horses' voluntary intake of early maturity teff hay with other common hays.

The study, "Acceptability of Teff Hay by Horses," appeared in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. The abstract can be viewed online.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.