Teff Hay for Laminitic Horses?
Over recent years, the popularity of Teff hay in Australia has risen. Studies have shown that feeding Teff hay to horses can help them maintain or lose weight, due to the low sugar level in Teff hay, making it suitable for horses with weight issues, Insulin Resistance (IR) and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). If you have a horse at risk of laminitis, read on to learn more about Teff hay.
Teff is a warm season grass native to Africa, with different varieties grown mainly for grain and hay production. As Teff has a shallow root system which is easily overgrazed, it is not used for grazing pasture. Tropical grasses such as Teff are referred to as C4 grasses as they have an extra step in carbon fixing for photosynthesis, this is different to temperate C3 grasses, which are the main grasses in the southern states of Australia. This different step in photosynthesis makes the sugar levels in C4 plants different to C3 plants.
In terms of sugar, which we consider as simple carbohydrates (WSC, Water Soluble Carbohydrates), lucerne and Teff hay are similarly low in critical sugar level, having approximately half the WSC of ryegrass and other grass hays. This makes Teff and lucerne hay much more suitable for overweight horses prone to laminitis compared with grass hay, which tends to have a WSC level well above the recommended limit for sugar intake from roughage types (10g/100g).
It is important to remember that the sugar content of grass species varies with seasonal conditions. When grown under warm, moist conditions the low sugar content of Teff remains steady. However, during stressful, drought conditions, sugar levels can vary, increasing as the plants dry out as growth of the plant slows, but sugar production remains steady.
There are other differences between Teff hay and other hay types. Teff hay has lower crude protein compared to lucerne hay. For horses that have suffered a recent bought of laminitis, protein is a very important feed constituent as it will help provide amino acids for hoof protein regrowth which is vital for recovery of damaged hooves. A protein supplement, such as full fat soyabean meal (as an oilseed which contains no soluble sugars), should be provided to offset the lower protein in Teff hay for horses recovering from laminitis.
Teff is also lower in calcium and magnesium compared to lucerne or grass hay, limiting nutrients available to horses fed Teff hay as a predominant part of their ration. It is sensible to suggest a good, comprehensive supplement be provided to horses consuming Teff hay, such as Kohnke’s Own® Cell-Provide™, as it has a balanced source of calcium, vitamins and trace-minerals to correct low dietary intake.
Teff, being a C4 type grass does contain moderate oxalate chemicals. When consumed by horses, oxalates bind to calcium in the small intestine resulting in a reduction of calcium absorption, which is vital for bone growth and maintenance as well as muscle and tissue function. Studies indicate that the calcium to oxalate ratio of Teff straw is 0.67. A ratio of calcium to oxalate that is less than 1 is considered hazardous. Therefore, Teff can be considered in the hazardous range due to its higher oxalate to calcium content. It may be beneficial to provide a calcium supplement such as Kohnke’s Own® Cal-XTRA™ if you are feeding Teff hay as the predominant part of your horse’s ration.
Overall, we believe that Teff hay may be a good source of roughage and a filling meal for overweight or laminitic horses, however it does not have any extra benefits over lucerne hay, and the lower protein, calcium and magnesium levels of Teff hay may even be considered a disadvantage. We still recommend lucerne as a key component to a weight management or laminitis recovery diet, for the health, wellbeing and satisfaction of the horse.