Teff Hay: Forage For The Metabolic Horse

By Tamara Wrayton

Teff hay is a fairly recent option for those of us looking for a low sugar, mid protein, forage crop for our equines here in British Columbia. But what is teff?

Teff has been shown to be an excellent option for the metabolic horse and those easy keepers; it has even been touted as the perfect hay for foundered horses. Being a C4 grass, teff should average lower NSC values than most C3 grasses (timothy, orchard, brome) because C4 warm season grasses do not form long chain fructan. Cool season C4 grasses store carbohydrates – what we call sugar in hay -as starch, and starch formation is self-limiting. Fructan formation in C3 grasses is not self-limiting so these grasses have the ability to store large amounts of fructan, creating dangerously high sugar hay, which can impact our equine friends negatively.

Teff is a self-pollinating warm season, C4, annual grass grown extensively throughout the US as forage for both cattle and horses. Here in BC we are accustomed to feeding cool season, C3 grasses that grow well in the western regions of North America, Alberta, Washington and British Columbia. These include the timothy, orchard and brome grass most of us are accustom to feeding, however teff has recently been planted in the interior of BC as a forage crop to produce horse hay.

Teff is an ancient grass thought to have originated in Ethiopia sometime between 1000 BC and 4000 BC, where it was used as a grain crop for human consumption. When introduced to North America initially, teff was used as a grain crop for ethnic populations accustomed to its use and as a gluten-free alternative to traditional wheat flour.

Researchers began looking into the value of various lines of teff seed as a forage crop for livestock. Throughout the 1990’s, several strains of seed were developed for their potential as forage and teff has since become a popular and valuable feed for livestock throughout the United States.

There are a number of positive attributes making teff an excellent crop for farmers. Teff hay has high palatability; it produces a fine-stemmed leafy hay that is consumed readily by horses and cattle alike. It is a fast-growing, high-yielding crop. Teff has been shown to be highly adaptable and is able to thrive in both moisture-short and waterlogged soil. Teff has shown significant drought tolerance even without irrigation and is highly successful when grown with added irrigation. While most commonly made into dried hay it can also be used to make silage or as a grazing crop.

Teff also seems to be consumed less quickly by most horses; while they do eat the teff, consumption by the pound seems to drop. This results in fewer calories overall being consumed. Of course, reduced consumption without restricting forage access is the goal for many of our thriftier type horses. I noticed this with my own three horses who had the opportunity to try teff recently. It would appear the teff satiates them so well they eat less hay! However, as always, forage for our horses isn’t that simple.

In hay tests provided by a teff seed supplier, NSC values ranged from 7.2% to 15.9%. The hay testing in the lower range would be suitable for the metabolic or foundered horse, however hay testing at the top of the range would be unsuitable. Further research comparing teff grown under sunny, cool conditions versus teff grown intentionally under drought conditions showed a dramatic 45% increase in NSC. This of course serves to highlight, once again, the importance of testing all hay being fed. Teff appears to have a place in the diet of the metabolically compromised horse but as with cool season forages, we can make no assumptions about NSC values.


Sources and suggested reading:

“Teff Grass-Crop Overview and Forage Production Guide” – (http://www.calwestseeds.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/TeffGrassGuidePCI2011.pdf)

“Teff Grass” (http://teffgrass.com)

“Voluntary intake and digestibility of teff hay fed to horses” -W. B. Staniar*,2, J. R. Bussard*, N. M. Repard*, M. H. Hall and A. O. Burk (http://teffgrass.com/wp-content/themes/tg/downloads/psu-teffhorse.pdf)

“Is Teff grass hay always low in NSC?” – Kathryn Watt (http://www.safergrass.org/pdf/Teff_grass2.pdf)

Forage for the Sugar-Sensitive Horse

by Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

Salsa the mini mule devised her own grazing muzzle quite by accident. That’s one way to go on a diet!

Nearly every day, we receive a call from someone looking for low sugar hay for their sugar-sensitive horse.  Reasons for sugar-sensitivity in horses are varied, but the most common calls we receive are on behalf of horses who:

  • have Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS);
  • have Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID – commonly called “Equine Cushings”);
  • have foundered, currently or in the past; or
  • tend to be easy keepers / overweight.

Not every horse requires or will even benefit from eating a low sugar diet.  Growing horses, harder keepers, hardworking horses, and horses who are just generally not sugar-sensitive can benefit from a reasonable level of carbohydrates in their diets.  NSC values of up ot 18% on a dry matter basis can be (more…)

Can I Trust my Hay Analysis?

By Lynda M. Vanden Elzen & Tamara Wrayton

At Wrayton Transport Hay Sales, we have been testing the hay we sell for years.  In the old days before hay testing, hay quality was evaluated based on general appearance, texture, colour, what was in it, and how it smelled.  If you had a fat horse, you fed it grass hay.  If your horse needed weight, you fed it alfalfa.  Things were so simple back then — except when they weren’t.

Many conscientious horse owners are now making sure to feed tested hay to their equines.  From the thoroughbred who can never eat enough to keep weight on, to the paddock potato stock horse who looks at food and gets fat, every horse can benefit from eating a diet that is suitable for their unique metabolic and performance needs.  Forage testing takes the guess work out of choosing suitable hay for our horses, and for those equines who are sugar-sensitive, it can be the difference between life and death.  These days, what kind of hay it is, or what it looks like, are less important than how it tests.  But are all forage tests created equal?

How many bales would we have to sample to generate an accurate analysis of this stack?

Things to consider:

Was a representative sample taken?  A “representative sample” means exactly what it sounds like – a sample that as accurately as possible represents the larger pile of hay it came from.  Every bale from the same field is not the same.  Every flake in a single bale (more…)

How Much Does My Horse Eat?

by Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

Whether we own one pleasure horse or a barn of fifty performance horses, it is important that all of us know how much our horses eat.  We need to be able to budget for the cost of feeding and be aware of how long our hay will last.  Also, knowing how much our horses tend to eat can be helpful so we will notice changes in their intake, enabling us to catch colics and other health problems quickly. On a day to day basis, if we pay attention to our horse’s body condition and do some simple math, we can figure out if we might need to adjust the type of hay we are feeding in order to provide the right amount of energy and nutrients.

977320_610145955672862_800881093_oThe cost of hay – per bale or per pound?

One of the most common questions we get is “How much is your hay per bale?” The answer is that we sell by the short ton (2000 lbs), not by the bale, because how much does a bale weigh? 30 lbs? 60 lbs? 100 lbs? 800 lbs? 1800 lbs? Bales vary a LOT, as you can see, so how much a bale costs depends on how much it weighs, and comparing hay prices based on bale prices is extremely misleading. (more…)

Propionic Acid-Treated Hay: Is it Safe?

By Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

IMG_1463As horse owners, we always want to find the highest quality hay available for our horses.  Opinions vary regarding which type of hay is ideal, and a hay that is ideal for one horse may be detrimental to another.  One consistent requirement, however, is that hay is free of detectable mould and dust.  What horse owners may not be aware of is how narrow the window is for farmers to bale hay successfully, not only at the optimal plant maturity level, but also at safe moisture levels, while contending with unpredictable weather at the same time.  Losses due to rain and insufficient drying time can cost a farmer a lot of money, and cause heating, loss of nutritional value, and even spontaneous combustion.

Ideally, farmers tend to want to bale when the plants have dried to moisture levels from 13-17%, so that the hay is dry enough to avoid heating and significant loss of nutritional value and bale weight, but not so dry that it shatters.  Ideally, this hay will then cure to contain 10-12% moisture or less (more…)

Hay Storage Safety

By Lynda M. Vanden Elzen
(Published originally in the Langley Times, June 29 2016, page 27)

Pages-from-i20160629054201873Did you know that hay can spontaneously combust, causing barn fires and loss of life, equipment, and structures? Hay is cut in the field, and then baled and stored. If the plants do not dry sufficiently before baling, the hay bales will go through a curing process in storage, sometimes called a “sweat.” This curing process produces heat, which can build up to over 200°F and ignite! When hay is baled before it is dried sufficiently, heat can build as a result of live plant tissue respiration coupled with bacteria and mold growth. Ambient moisture in the air surrounding stored hay can also be a factor.

In the Lower Mainland of BC, our wet climate can produce a perfect storm leading to hay combustion due to the high ambient moisture in our air, and the difficulty our local farmers can experience when trying to dry their hay sufficiently before baling. Hay should test at 10-12% moisture or less in order to avoid risk of heating. In dryer climates, (more…)

A Missing Link for the Metabolic Horse

By: Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

We spend a lot of time here talking to customers about how to feed their sugar-sensitive horses.  People call looking for low sugar hay, and inevitably we end up talking about their horses with them.  We like to get a wholistic picture of the horses we are helping to feed so that we can make the best recommendations to their owners.  More often than not, the horse is a mature, sedentary animal, and the owner admits with great guilt that they don’t ride him as often as they should.  More and more, horses are living sedentary lives in stalls and small paddocks, many with the best of everything….except what is one of the most crucial aspects of their welfare – exercise.

The reality is that we can feed a metabolic horse a diet that is low in sugars, but there is a great deal more to it in terms of creating a wholistic plan (more…)

What is “Quality Hay”?

Written by Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

IMG_9370Nearly every day, someone asks us, “What is quality hay?”  Is 2nd cut better than 1st cut?  Is timothy better than orchard grass?  Are alfalfa mixes better than grass hay?  Is soft hay better than coarse hay?  Is low sugar hay better than “regular” hay?  These are all good questions.  The answer is that it depends on the horse you’re feeding.

Many horse owners who come here to look at hay want pretty, dark green, soft second cut, and then when we ask them about their horse, they tell us they have an overweight, sedentary quarter horse.  The hay analysis notwithstanding, soft hay is usually lower in fibre, which means the horse can eat more of it more quickly.  This is great for a hard keeping thoroughbred, but not so great for a fat pony.  A hay that is dark green in colour can be high in protein and nutrients, but it can also be high in nitrates, especially when you’re talking about our local hay here in the Fraser Valley.  High nitrates can tend to cause diarrhea in many horses.  So, from this short introduction, I think you can see that an appraisal of hay quality is relative to the horse who will be eating it. (more…)

Timothy & Sugars

by Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

Timothy Grass, Langley BC

Recently, we posted here about some of the many misconceptions and some general information about Alfalfa & Protein, and the article got a big response.  Alfalfa is not the only type of hay that is misunderstood – we receive calls from customers all the time who have been told that timothy hay is always low in sugar, or that it is “too rich” for their horses.  We have even heard of vets and equine nutritionists, supplement companies, forum threads and websites etc, telling horse owners to feed timothy hay to their laminitic ponies because it’s always low sugar or always low in calories.  Well, we’re here to tell you it is just not anywhere near that simple.  Feeding any kind of untested hay to sugar-sensitive horses is very risky.  We have done tests ourselves on timothy we didn’t end up buying because the NSC (Non Structural Carbohydrate) values were up to 24%, when sugar-sensitive horses should not consume an NSC of more than 10-12% depending on whose research you’re following.  Even regular hardworking horses (more…)

Alfalfa & Protein

by Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

We get a LOT of questions and comments from customers about feeding alfalfa to horses. There are many myths circulated about alfalfa, which is unfortunate, because it can be an excellent horse feed. Alfalfa is a legume hay that is generally low in sugars, has no fructans (a type of sugar), is high in calcium and quality protein, and because of its very deep root systems – up to 49 feet into the ground – alfalfa plants are able to access nutrients deep in the soil that other plants cannot.  Alfalfa can be a big help to horses who suffer from gastric ulcers, it provides abundant minerals and amino acids, and horses love to eat it!  Many horse people are afraid to feed alfalfa, so we’d like to present some information here on alfalfa and protein to help people to make educated choices about both.

a close up of alfalfa hay

alfalfa hay

Protein is made up of essential and non-essential amino acids. The horse’s body can synthesize some amino acids on its own, so those ones are called “non-essential” because the horse does not need to consume them in his feed. Essential amino acids must come from the horse’s diet. These are: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Amino acids work together to form complete proteins, so if one is missing or in short supply, this limits the amount of protein available to the horse (more…)

Horseman’s Bazaar tomorrow March 13!

quarter horse bazaarDon’t forget to join us at Thunderbird Show Park for the LMQHA’s annual Horseman’s Bazaar. Kids had fun helping us set up today. Lynda will be there all day manning the booth. She has lots of good handouts about hay testing and nutrition as well as pens, bumper stickers and candy! I will be in and out as the littles are also involved in a demo with their vaulting club so make sure you find us! Vaulting demos are at 11:30 and 3:30.



Thermal images of hoof during laminitis

An interesting article about the temperature of a foundering horse’s feet. Observations included:

• Vasodilation (warm feet) promoted laminitis
• Vasoconstriction (cold feet) protected (cryotherapy?)

Thermal images of a hoof every hour 48 hours into laminitis:
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To read the full article please follow this link:


While we should of course endeavour to avoid triggering laminitis this study shows the importance of paying attention to heat in the feet and early diagnosis.

Welcome to our new website!

We have just launched our pretty awesome new website! We hope you enjoy it. Check back here for articles and thoughts from us – we are excited 🙂

Almost as excited as the mule.