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Playing the Field Part 2: Oat Hay or Teff?

Hi everyone, we are back to the playing the field series. This one is going to be short and sweet as we look at oat hay and teff. Horse owners are often faced with the question of whether to feed teff or oat hay. There is a significant price difference between the two, but is teff really better than oat hay? Will oat hay be sufficient for my horse if I cannot afford teff? Let’s look at them more closely.

Chewing and digestion of roughage satisfies a horse’s inbuilt natural drive to graze continuously, this helps neutralize the rising stomach acid and for digestive and mental/behavioral health.

75% of your horse’s diet should be roughage in the form of hay or pasture. Good quality hay can meet or exceed protein needs.

Oat hay is a cereal grain. As we learnt from the first playing the fields article it is higher in non-structural carbohydrates. Due to this it is not recommended for horses with metabolic conditions. Most horses love oat hay because every bite is slightly different and surprising. A mix of oat hay and lucerne is much richer and higher in protein and great for growing horses and broodmares. Nutritional value, as with all hay, depends on the stage of maturity of the crop at harvest as well as storage. When compared to lucerne cut at the same level of maturity, oat hay is often lower in crude protein and lower in digestible energy. However, horses do need to consume more of it per day to meet nutritional requirements. Oat hay is great for horses that are confined, because chew time is often increased and helps mental stimulation. Typically, oat hay is suited for sedentary horses due to the lower protein content but if coupled with lucerne will work well for horses in work as well.

Teff is considered a premium hay. It is very palatable and has a good amount of protein and digestible energy. It has a low NSC value and is high in calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper and potassium. Therefore, horses being fed on good quality teff often have their nutritional requirements met more readily. Teff’s forage quality will decrease with maturity, therefore, it is important to harvest at the right time. Teff has a big variability in quality. First and second cuttings are always best, and owners should be aware that bales are stored correctly and do not turn moldy.

Horses are grazing animals and they need high fiber, low carb diets with 8-10% protein in order to keep their guts functioning optimally. Horses that receive insufficient amounts of fibre are more likely to colic, due to obstructions not moving through the intestines properly. Hay choice needs to be looked at with perspective to the whole picture. Every horse is different. Some find the high sugar content of the oat hay quite heating, while others are not susceptible to it. Going back to last week’s blog, it is important that your horse’s gut is functioning optimally so that it can properly absorb all the nutrients provided by the hay you choose. Check out last week’s blog for more on gut health. Next week we will wrap up hay talk with lucerne. Stay tuned!

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