Variability & Availability of Teff Hay for Horses

by | Mar 20, 2017

The extremely high variability and low availability of teff hay appropriately packaged for horses, is what inspired! The current body of literature tells us that teff hay has tremendous potential for horses with metabolic, digestive and allergic problems, but is it possible to develop a sustainable market for the good of the horses and the hay growers? Is it possible to grow teff hay in the Pacific Northwest that will fit the niche forage desperately needed in the horse industry? These are the questions that I set out to answer during the summer of 2015, even before my first graduate course started at WSU.

I made a goal to speak with every teff grower and supplier that I possibly could. I networked with extension specialists, seed distributors, and hay grower associations thorough the PNW to find names and phone numbers of anyone who was or had grown teff grass. I even found one grower (who would become a research grower and good friend) in the Mini-Nickel! I was able to core and analyze nearly two dozen teff hay cuttings by the end of that harvest season. When I started, I knew that teff hay was going to be hard to find, but I could not have predicted the range of quality values I’d find in the analyses. What I found fueled my energies to research the growing and harvesting techniques that influence teff’s quality and carbohydrate values.


The variability of teff hay grown in the Pacific Northwest 2015

Analyzed by NIRS at WSU Prosser Irrigated Agricultural Research & Extension Center

Nutrient Value Average Maximum Minimum
Crude Protein (%) 13.6 19.6 7.3
ADF (%) 35.7 42.8 30.0
aNDF (%) 58.8 67.9 51.2
TDN (calculated) 54.1 68.3 53.7
RFV (calculated) 85.7 116.1 76.1
Sugar (ESC) (%)  7 3  
Fructan (%) 1 0 2.5
WSC (%) 8 15 3

VARIABILITY RESULTS: As you can see from the maximum and minimum values of 2015 teff in the the table above, there was incredible variability in baled teff hay. I was surprised to find multiple teff cuttings with protein values nearing 20%- ranging from 7.3% to 19.6% on a dry matter basis. Digestibility indicators like ADF and aNDF (51.2%-67.95%) ranged considerably showing that the digestibility could vary depending on maturity of grass at cutting. Most notably, the carbohydrate values were all over the board! Note that the majority of this hay was being baled for cattle and not horses, so the growers were not specifically attempting to control the carbohydrate values. However, it was evident that research was needed to improve the consistency of teff hay before it could be accepted by the equine community.

I separate carbohydrates from quality values for one major reason. Mostly, high forage quality usually implies high caloric density when talking about feed for livestock. The higher the calories from protein, fat and simple carbohydrates, the greater the quality. This is expressed most simply as Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN). However, when feeding horses at risk for laminitis (one of the primary demographics for teff hay), it’s important to realize that we don’t want high caloric density. Overweight and obese horses at risk for laminitis need BOTH low carb and low calorie feedstuffs. Therefore, we want teff hay that can meet the lower protein and energy needs of these horses while also minimizing the simple carbohydrate values (i.e. fructan and WSC). We must learn to differentiate carbs from quality.

AVERAGES: Before completing the analytical tests for the 2015 samples, I sat down with my primary advisor and the forage agronomist for WSU, Dr. Steve Fransen, to define the ideal teff hay for overweight horses at risk for laminitis. The typical horse in need of teff hay will be over a body condition score of 7, at maintenance or light work, and have no special conditions like poor dentition or pregnancy. The ideal diet for these horses would look something like a platter of celery sticks and carrots with light Ranch dressing at a WeighWatcher’s meeting. I was happy to find that the average quality and carbohydrate values from the 2015 samples, very neatly matched my expectations for the idea teff hay. This gave me hope. If the average teff hay could meet the nutritional needs of these horses without the grower trying, then there was hope for producing a more precise, consistent product to bring to market.

Expectations for the ideal teff hay for overweight horses at risk for laminitis.
Nutrient Poor Best Excessive but acceptable
Crude Protein (%) <9 or >16 9-13 13-16
ADF (%) >40 35-40 <35
NDF (%) >60 56-60 52-56
Energy (Mcal/lb) <0.9 = 1.0 >1.0- 1.2
WSC (%) >10 4-8 8-10
RFV <80 80-95 >95

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