Orchard Grass Hay for Horses

Orchard Grass Hay

Last updated on July 8th, 2023 at 04:52 pm

Orchard Grass Hay for Horses

Orchard grass hay is one of the most popular forage grasses, alongside Timothy hay. Orchardgrass hay is becoming more and more popular as time goes on. At its core, orchard grass hay is a very palatable grass that has an extraordinarily high nutrient content. Orchard grass hay has around 10% or 12% protein, making it higher in protein and higher in calories than the competition. And when talking about Timothy grass, orchard grass actually has the exact same balanced levels of calcium and phosphorus. 

One of the things that you will need when it comes to purchasing hay for your horses is a hay tester. This is the one that we use at the ranch.

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But the big bonus when using orchard grass hay is that the fibre is more digestible. Because of so many nutrients inside of orchard grass, it means that the horse will need to potentially eat less grain to satisfy its protein requirements and its energy requirements. Again, to compare it to Timothy grass, orchard grass grows much better even in moderate drought conditions. Orchard grass also provides at least three hay cuttings each and every year. 

Related – Amy Flemming from Heartland feeds her horses hay in High River

Because orchard grass gets 3 cuttings every year instead of just two, it can produce consistent and desirable hay that horses will greedily consume without leaving much waste.

Orchard Grass Hay vs Timothy Grass Hay

High-quality forage is absolutely crucial for a horse to have a proper digestive function. Hay actually makes up between 60% and 100% of any horse’s diet, depending on the horse’s activities and functions. For a horse that is stalled frequently, or for horses that don’t have access to a pasture, stored forage is absolutely necessary. This is the primary source of forage, and the two most popular choices are Timothy grass and orchard grass. But which one is actually better? 

We just talked a little about orchard grass, and while it is extremely popular, Timothy grass is still arguably more popular. It’s actually a traditional favourite with a lot of horse owners due to the simple fact that Timothy grass was one of the very first cultivated for use in horse hay. This has left Timothy grass with a very prominent place in the feed. 

In fact, Timothy grass is better established, and people are generally more comfortable with it than they are with orchard grass. In terms of quality, Timothy grass does contain a fair amount of protein, but not quite as much as orchard grass. Timothy grass only has somewhere around 8% protein, whereas orchard grass has 10% or 12%. 

Timothy grass and orchard grass have the exact same balanced ratio of phosphorus and calcium. However, Timothy grass only has a low or moderate calorie content. The big bonus with Timothy grass is that it’s super-rich in fibre. Orchard grass does have very digestible fibre as well, but it’s pretty close to a draw on this matter. 

Finally, there is a huge difference in cuttings between Timothy grass and orchard grass. This actually makes Timothy grass more difficult to find and more expensive. Timothy grass only yields two cuttings each year and requires a ridiculous amount of water to grow each cutting. This makes Timothy grass less available even though it is more popular traditionally. Like we already said when talking about orchard grass, you get 3 cuttings each year, and that’s a whole lot more feed for your horse!

Where Did Orchard Grass Come From?

Believe it or not, orchard grass has been used since colonial times, cultivated for pasture and hay for hundreds of years. When orchard grass is grown under a vigilant eye, it’s extremely healthy and beneficial for horses. It’s actually been a very important forage in the husbandry of horses since people first settled in North America. But where did this stuff actually come from? 

As the name might suggest, orchard grass is commonly found naturally thriving in many shady areas, specifically in orchards and at the borders of the forest. It’s not only used in the United States either. Orchard grass is also common in the north of Asia and in Europe. It’s also used in some of the higher elevations in Africa. Orchard grass can even be found as far south as New Zealand and Australia in some temperate regions. 

Orchard grass is classified as a cool-season forage, and it’s typically grown either in pure stands or along with legumes, most popularly with alfalfa. With other grasses, orchard grass does not work particularly well inside of a mixed stand.

Which Horses Should You Feed Orchard Grass?

Any horse can benefit from eating orchard grass. It’s an excellent source of fibre, it works well in the diet of almost any horse, it has great palatability, and horses love to eat it. It’s also very versatile. It fits well into a lot of different feeding programs. But at its core, orchard grass is a foundation forage, and there are some horses that benefit more than others.

For example, because orchard grass does have low energy content levels and low protein levels, it’s a very smart choice for show barns that house warmblood breeds and thoroughbreds. It’s also very easy hay to digest. This makes it a popular choice for senior horses who might be struggling with their digestive system. It also makes a great feed for thoroughbreds with a sensitive digestive tract. 

If you want to try out orchard grass but aren’t sure where to start, you can actually mix it with alfalfa to help your horse with its digestion.

Orchard Grass Vs Brome Hay 

Orchard Grass has a crude protein of 7-11% typically. This varies obviously but that is the typical range. Bromegrass will be a little higher than this, so it is important to work with your vet to make sure that you are getting the right amount. A horse needs protein, especially if it is working a lot. But it also needs roughage and long feeding periods. Some people feed too little because of the high protein but then expose a risk to ulcers and other issues because the feeding window is too small.

Sources – https://alfalfa.ucdavis.edu/+symposium/proceedings/2004/04-131.pdf