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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. The three types of hay most horse owners feed are Timothy, Bermuda grass, and Alfalfa. But what are the differences between the three?

The primary differences between Timothy, Regular grass, 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.

Here is a table that displays the key differences.

Type of HayProtein ContentFiberCalcium to phosphorus ratio
Timothy hay8% protein32%2 to 1
Alfalfa hay12 to 15 percent crude protein20 to 28 percent5 to 1
Bermuda grass hay8.4 to 10 percent crude protein31.4 percent2 to 1

Choosing the correct type of hay for your horse is crucial to keeping them healthy. Horses are herbivores and need to eat a lot to maintain their health. But what are the differences between the types of hays, such as timothy, regular grass, and alfalfa? And which is best for your horse?

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

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!

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.

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.

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 need to consume 0.15-1.5% of calcium and 0.15-0.6% of 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, which is essential for horse health, and it also contains a variety of 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.

Conclusion

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.

FAQ

What is Timothy hay used for?

Timothy hay is a grass that can be grown in all states, and it is a cool-season grass that grows fast. The grass originates from Europe, Asia, and Africa and grows well in many different climates. Its name comes from Timothy Hanson, who promoted it in the 1700s.
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.
But if you want your best price try to get to know farmers that grow hay and buy direct; they are usually happy to sell to small local horse owners.

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.