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Differences Between Timothy, Bermuda Grass & Alfalfa Hay

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The type of hay you choose can greatly impact your horses’ well-being. As an owner, it is vital for you to know what types of hay are available to find the best fit for your horse. Most horse owners feed either Timothy, Bermudagrass, or Alfalfa hay, or a combination of these. But what are the differences between the three?

As a horse owner, it is important to understand the various types of hay available and how they can affect your horse’s health. Three common types of hay are Timothy, Bermudagrass, and Alfalfa, and each has its own unique characteristics. It is up to you to determine which type fits your horse’s needs best.

The primary differences between Timothy, bermudagrass and Alfalfa hay come down to protein, fiber content, and calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. While each one has its benefits-from increased calories and protein with alfalfa to easier digestion in timothy hay- individual horses’ needs vary.

By taking the time to research and understand the differences between these types of hay, you can ensure that you are providing the best possible nutrition for your horse. This article looks at each type and provides helpful information about its benefits and limitations.

This article is one of a series of articles on horse hay I wrote, the main article being: Horse Hay: An Owner’s Guide.

Types of hay.

A horse’s diet is primarily hay which is essential for a horse’s health and well-being. High-quality hay provides the necessary nutrients a horse needs for growth and energy. But just like people, not all horses are alike, so there’s a wide variety of different types of hay you can choose from that best suits your animal’s needs!

Picture of bermudagrass hay next to alfalfa hay
Alfalfa next to bermudagrass hay

Even though there are many different types of hay, they all break down into two categories: legumes or grasses. Legume hays include Alfalfa, white clover, and red clover, while grass hays consist mainly of Timothy, bermudagrass, and orchard.

The key difference between these two types is that legume hays have higher protein levels than grass hays. The type of hay you use is necessary to match your horses’ needs, but it’s also essential you buy fresh, high-quality hay. It’s always a good idea to inspect the bales before purchase so you can be sure it isn’t moldy or full of dust.

Here is a comparison of the nutritional values of alfalfa hay, timothy hay, and bermudagrass hay as a percentage of dry matter:

NutrientAlfalfa HayTimothy HayBermudagrass Hay
Digestible Energy2.0 Mcal/kg1.6 Mcal/kg1.6 Mcal/kg
Non-Structural Carbs11.3%13.8%13.6%
Vitamin A (IU)9,5003,5003,500
Vitamin E (IU)

It’s important to note that the nutritional content of hay can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the type of hay, the growing conditions, and the harvesting and storage methods, so it’s best to use these values as a general guide rather than an exact measure.

Therefore, it’s always a good idea to use these values as a general guide rather than an exact measure. If you have specific questions about the nutritional content of hay or your horse’s diet, you should consult with a veterinarian or a qualified animal nutritionist.

Alfalfa hay is higher in protein and calcium compared to timothy hay and bermudagrass hay. Timothy hay is higher in fiber compared to the other two hays. Bermudagrass hay has similar protein, fiber, and vitamin levels as timothy hay.

It’s important to provide your horse with a balanced diet that meets its specific nutritional needs. Always consult with a veterinarian or a qualified animal nutritionist to determine the best diet for your pet.

Below is a YouTube video that compares grass and alfalfa hay.

What’s the difference between Timothy and Alfalfa hay?

Alfalfa and Timothy are two of the most common types of hay fed to horses. Both are good hay for horses, but they have some differences in nutrient content and physical characteristics.

Alfalfa HayTimothy Hay
Nutritional ValueHigher protein and calcium contentLower protein and calcium content
DigestibilityTypically more digestibleTypically less digestible
PriceGenerally more expensiveGenerally less expensive
Suitability for Different Life StagesGood for growing, lactating, or pregnant horses; it may be too rich for sedentary or overweight animals.Good for adult maintenance or senior horses; may not provide enough nutrients for growing, lactating, or pregnant animals

It’s important to note that the nutritional content of hay can vary depending on factors such as the type of grass or legume, the location and climate where it was grown, and the stage of maturity at which it was harvested.

Note: It’s always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian or a livestock nutritionist to determine the best type of hay for your horse’s needs.

Timothy and Alfalfa hay have different nutrient values.

Alfalfa hay is typically higher in protein and essential nutrients than timothy hay, making Alfalfa a better option for more active animals that need a high-protein diet. Alfalfa also has more calories per pound than timothy, so it’s generally the preferred choice of sport horse owners.

However, Timothy hay is higher in fiber and has a better calcium-to-phosphorous ratio than Alfalfa. High fiber helps with horse digestion and reduces the risk of getting colic. And your horse needs a proper amount and correct proportion of calcium and phosphorus to stay healthy.

Horses must consume 0.15-1.5% calcium and 0.15-0.6% phosphorus. Calcium helps the brain and nerves work. And phosphorus helps muscles, heart, and intestines work well.

The ratio of calcium to phosphorus is essential for horses; they need at least as much calcium as phosphorus in their diet. If the horse gets too much phosphorus, it can lead to problems with its bones.

Alfalfa and Timothy hay look different.

Not all hay looks the same. High-quality Alfalfa, for example, has a bright or deep green color with fine leafy stems and exudes a fresh smell. The color differences are obvious when you stack a bale of Alfalfa near grass hay.

Timothy hay looks like long strands of dry grass. It can be light to pale green or light straw color, depending on its age and quality. The hay should have a fresh-cut grass smell.

Alfalfa hay is higher in protein and calories, but timothy hay has more fiber and a better calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. Feeding your horse a mixture of these two types of hay will provide the best combinations possible for optimum nutrition.

Alfalfa has more sugar and starch than most grass hays which is a problem for horses at risk of laminitis; so if your horse falls in this category, make sure you talk to your vet before starting them on Alfalfa.

Picture of a bale of Timothy hay

What is the difference between Timothy hay and Bermuda grass hay?

Timothy hay and Bermuda grass hay are both types of grass hays that are typically fed to horses. Bermudagrass comes in a few different variations. In South Louisiana, most people feed their horses Alicia Bermuda grass hay.

Timothy hay is a popular type of horse hay that is known for its high nutritional value. It is rich in fiber, essential for horse health, and contains various vitamins and minerals. Timothy hay is also low in sugar and calories, making it an ideal forage for horses that are prone to weight gain.

In addition, the long fibers in timothy hay help to keep horses’ digestive systems healthy and reduce the risk of colic. For all of these reasons, timothy hay is an excellent choice for horse owners who are looking for nutritious and healthy hay for their animals.

Bermudagrass hay is typically the cheapest grass hay for horses, so it’s a good option for horse owners on a budget. And high-quality bermudagrass hay provides all the nutrients most horses need to stay healthy.

However, there are some concerns that lower-quality bermudagrass may cause impaction in horses, so make sure you learn how to choose hay or talk with an experienced equestrian before buying.

Bermudagrass is also known for its high sugar content, which can be beneficial for some horses but not good for others. The sugar content in bermudagrass helps to give horses energy and can promote healthy digestion. However, it is not a good choice for horses prone to obesity or insulin resistance.

Picture of a horse eating alfalfa hay.

Types of grass hay for horses

Grass horse hay comes from many different types of grass. The best hay can vary depending on your horse and its needs. But be aware that you won’t find the same kinds or quality of grass in all geographic locations.

Timothy, Bermuda, and Orchard are the three most popular grass hays, and you can typically find them in most feed stores. Brome Grass Hay, Oat Hay, Ryegrass Hay, and Fescue Hay are other less popular grass hays.


Understanding the differences between hay types can help you better decide what kind to feed your horse. The three hays, Timothy, Alfalfa, and Bermuda, have similarities and some distinctions that will be helpful when deciding which one is best for your horses’ needs.

If you still don’t know which of these is right for your horse, ask your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist for guidance.


What is Timothy hay used for?

Timothy grass is good for many things. It can be used for hay for horses either by itself or mixed with Alfalfa. Timothy is also used to feed cows and other grazing animals, plus it’s suitable for feeding small pets like rabbits or domestic mice.

How much does it cost for Timothy hay?

Tractor Supply sells a 50lb bale of Timothy hay for roughly 22.00. For the same size bale of Alfalfa or Alfalfa/Timothy mix, the cost is 20.00. You pay a little extra for the convenience of buying from a national chain; I usually find lower prices from local feed stores.

Where is the best Timothy hay grown?

Timothy grows well in the Northeastern and Midwestern states, but the best Timothy hay is produced in high altitudes with harsh winters. Western Canada, Oregon, and Washington state are recognized for growing some of the best Timothy hay in the United States.

What is the best hay to feed a horse with ulcers?

Alfalfa and Timothy are good hay choices to feed horses with ulcers. However, it is important to consult with a veterinarian or an equine nutritionist to determine the most suitable type of hay for a horse with ulcers, as each horse’s nutritional needs can vary.