Could Overweight Equids Benefit From Teff Hay?

Horses voluntarily reduced their hay intake (and, thus, calorie consumption) when offered teff compared to ryegrass.

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Horses voluntarily reduced their hay intake (and, thus, calorie consumption) when offered teff compared to ryegrass. | Photo: Courtesy Morgan Askins
You know your horse could stand to shed some weight, but you’re concerned about restricting his forage intake too much. After all, cutting back on his hay or pasture access could lead to gastric ulcers or unwanted behaviors, such as cribbing or wood chewing. Don’t worry—you’re not alone.

There’s some good news on this front, however. Researchers say teff hay might actually have benefits for overweight horses. Morgan J. Askins, a student at Western Kentucky University (WKU), in Bowling Green, recently carried out a study on teff under the direction of Jennifer C. Gill, PhD, an assistant professor of equine science. She presented her findings at the 2017 Equine Science Society Symposium, held May 30-June 2 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Teff is a warm-season grass, and although it’s been suggested to have lower palatability than some other grasses, its nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC, essentially the starch and sugar component) content is generally lower than that of many cool-season grasses (such as timothy or orchardgrass). Hays (any feed, for that matter) with low NSC levels can help control horses’ blood glucose and insulin levels, which is an important part of managing conditions such as laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance, among others.

Veterinarians and nutritionists typically recommend that horses eating a maintenance diet consume at least 2% of their body weight (BW) in forage each day to keep their digestive tracts functioning properly; for an average 1,000-pound horse, that amounts to about 20 pounds of forage daily. For weight loss, nutritionists often suggest reducing the horse’s forage intake to 1.5% or 1.25% BW (roughly 15 or 12.5 pounds, respectively, for the 1,000-pound horse). It’s not generally recommended to reduce forage intake to less than 1% BW, as this can lead to gastrointestinal issues and boredom (and subsequent stereotypy development)

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Written by:

Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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