Different Types of Hay

Alternative Types of Hay

With drought conditions plaguing most of the United States, hay is scarce and prices are on the rise. Many horse owners are turning to different types of hay as a result. Let’s take a look at some of the less common types of hay which may provide a perfect alternative for you and your horse.


Bahiagrass hay actually does well in drought conditions, as it grows best in sandy soil. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, bahiagrass originated in South America but it’s been introduced to the United States as an alternative hay crop due to its ability to thrive in the drought conditions in which other hays flounder. Bahiagrass currently ranges from Texas to the Carolinas, up through Arkansas.


A word of warning if you plan to feed bahiagrass hay: The seedheads of bahiagrass hay are often infected by ergot, a fungus. Ingesting large amounts of ergot-infected hay can cause pregnant mares to abort their foals, and can be toxic if fed to cattle. If you have pregnant mares, do not feed them bahiagrass hay.



Teff hay is quickly becoming a popular summer hay alternative, according to the University of California, Davis. Teff is appealing as an alternative hay because it grows quickly and when planted in the late spring it can be harvested multiple times over the summer, producing a high yield. Teff is threatened by frost and has to be planted only after the possibility of frost has passed. Its nutritional value is very close to that of timothy hay, making teff hay a possible alternative to the traditionally-fed timothy hay.

Bermudagrass hay

Bermudagrass hay

Bermudagrass hay is a leafier hay which has a nutritional value that’s comparable to the nutritional value of coastal hay. According to the University of Florida, bermudagrass hay was introduced about ten years ago. It was developed to be hardy and tolerant of sandy soils, allowing it to grow in drought conditions. Although sensitive to the cold, warm-season bermudagrass hay is currently grown across 25 to 30-million acres as forage for livestock.



Coastal hay, sometimes referred to as coastal bermudagrass, is quite common, since it’s a hearty hay which is easily grown in the southern regions of the United States. Coastal hay grows tall and its nutritional value is close to that of early season timothy hay. When dried, coastal hay turns to a golden-brown color.

You might consider exploring some of these alternative hay options if the cost of hay is becoming prohibitive. No matter what kind of hay you purchase, be sure that the bales are dry, and that they’re mold- and parasite-free. Always store bales away from your barn if at all possible, and never purchase more hay than your horses will eat in a year, since after a year it will lose nutritional value.

When switching your horse over to a new type of hay, make the introduction slowly – gradually combine small bits of the new hay with your horse’s old hay. Increase the amount of the new hay while simultaneously decreasing the amount of old hay that your horse is fed gradually, over the course of a week or two, until your horse is fully transitioned to the new hay.

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