You’re here because you want to do right by your animal. More than that, you want to give them the very best. And that all starts with Timothy hay.
Most human-to-rabbit relationships go something like this:
Humans give rabbits all the hay they want. Rabbit gives human snuggles and blissful energy.
I’m here to help you live up to your side of the bargain.
It’s nice to know the who, what, where, when, and why of something when you’re carrying it into your house by the box full. And if you’re going to invest money into this relationship, you want to make sure you’re buying the right Timothy hay.
What’s the right kind of Timothy hay? Well, that depends on your animal and their specific needs. There’s also a process to growing, harvesting, and packaging Timothy hay that needs to be done with ample care to ensure quality results. Which is why we’ve put together the ultimate guide to teach you the ropes. So the next time you carry a box of hay into your house, you know what you’re doing.
WHAT EXACTLY IS TIMOTHY HAY, SCIENTIFICALLY SPEAKING?
I bet you’ve been wondering why you keep looking for that name Timothy. What makes it different from any other hay? Or the grass in your backyard?
There are many different types of grass. First, they’re divided into annual and perennial grasses. Perennial grasses come back every year and Timothy hay is this type of grass.
Timothy grass can grow to be 5 feet tall. If you let it! That’s a big field maze for a little rabbit. It has a shallow fibrous root system and a lower bulb that stores carbohydrates. This is called a corm. The leaves are smooth and green.
Then there are the flower heads. This is the part of the grass that gets those buns to kick up their feet. You might not think of it as a flower right away… but we’re talking about the fluffy part on the top of the best pieces of Timothy hay.
So, is Timothy grass the same as hay? Timothy grass is what you have before you turn it into hay. Harvesting and drying the grass gives you Timothy hay. It’s then packaged and shipped out to the animals!
WHY DO THEY CALL IT TIMOTHY HAY?
Okay, let's back up. Timothy hay is actually native to Europe. It was brought to America by early settlers in the 17th century. There they were: exploring a new land with timothy hay seeds in their pockets.
It was originally called Herd grass after John Herd found it growing in New Hampshire in 1711.
Sorry John, the name Herd grass didn’t last more than 10 years. In 1720 Timothy Hansen entered the scene. He started promoting it as the superior choice for horses in Maryland. He’s believed to be the first person to sell the Timothy hay seeds commercially.
And since then, Timothy grass has spread across the continent! Good thing too because I don’t know what we’d do without it.
What is Timothy hay good for you ask? It’s the perfect food for rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas. It’s also used (and mixed with other types of hay) for horses, cattle, sheep, and goats.
HOW TO HARVEST TIMOTHY HAY
You’re about to find out that harvesting Timothy hay is all about the details. These farmers need to get the recipe just right in order to produce premium quality Timothy hay. Something you can only do when you have mother nature working with you (more on that later).
You have to cut the hay at the perfect time so that you’re maximizing the nutrients in the cut grass as well as the grass that is left behind to continue growing.
So, the hay is cut after the first flower. Leaving 4-6 inches behind after the cut will set the stage for future growth. Timothy hay can actually be cut three times in one season! With each cut, there’s a different nutritional profile for that specific cut of hay.
Animals have unique needs that require you to choose your cut of Timothy hay wisely. We’ll dive into the specifics of these three cuts later, so keep hopping with me.
WHY TIMOTHY HAY IS SO IMPORTANT FOR YOUR ANIMAL
Fiber is what makes your animal's digestive system work. Their digestive system is how they absorb nutrients and maintain good energy. So, fiber is everything. You know your animal is getting enough fiber when they have regular, firm bowel movements.
And the best way to get enough fiber is with Timothy Hay.
In addition to that, Timothy hay helps maintain their dental health. The constant chewing helps to file down rabbits’ teeth. This is essential because rabbits’ teeth are always growing! It also helps to clean off their teeth - hats off to fiber again!
Top Five Small Animals
That Benefit From Timothy Hay
Timothy Hay For Rabbits
Did you know that rabbits can’t vomit? This explains why it’s especially important to feed your rabbit right. If they eat the wrong thing they can’t throw it back up. They don’t have a backup plan. It has to make its way all the way through their digestive tract.
So while you won’t have to clean up any hairballs they’ve thrown up, a blockage can cause serious problems with a rabbit's digestive system.
This is due to a thick and strong sphincter. This forms a barrier between the esophagus and the stomach. A rabbit’s sphincter stays shut. Humans have a sphincter too but ours open and close.
While Timothy hay is high in fiber, it’s also low in protein and calcium. When a rabbit eats too much calcium, it doesn’t go out with their poo. It’s expelled through their kidneys.
Consequently, too much calcium can give them problems with their kidneys and bladder. This makes Timothy hay the perfect food for rabbits to be sending through their digestive system every day.
Rabbits need Timothy hay as a “free choice food”. This means they’re free to eat whenever they want and as much as they want. Let it rain Timothy hay!
RABBITS IN THE WILD
Wild rabbits spend their days munching on any green foliage they can find. Grass, leaves, clovers, and shrubs are the wild rabbit’s favorite. So they spend their days chewing and filling up on fiber just like our domestic friends!
Surprisingly they don’t go for carrots or other vegetables very often. Peter Cottontail actually had an easier time staying out of the garden than the story lets on.
HOW MUCH IS THIS GOING TO COST ME?
Rabbits need constant access to hay, but how much will that be at the end of the month? Let’s see if your rabbit is going to eat you out of house and home.
Most rabbits will eat about 13 ounces of hay per week per 2.5 pounds of body weight. Let’s say you have a big bunny at 7.5 pounds. 13 X 3 = 39 ounces. Which is 2.4 pounds.
Then multiply that by four to get your monthly amount and you have almost 10 pounds of hay.
10 pounds of good quality 2nd cutting Timothy hay will cost you about 30 dollars. Not too bad but still a noteworthy investment for those bunny snuggles and blissful energy.
Timothy Hay for Guinea Pigs
All plants have some ratio of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Timothy hay provides the perfect ratio of these nutrients for guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs are like rabbits where their teeth continue to grow. The course textured Timothy hay wears their teeth down and keeps their mouths healthy. As soon as their mouth starts having problems, their digestive system will soon follow. So dental health is just as important as digestive health! It all goes hand in hand. Or paw in paw.
HOW MUCH HAY DO GUINEA PIGS NEED?
At least 80% of a guinea pig's diet should be hay. They need all the fiber to keep their digestive system healthy. So once again we have an animal who needs unlimited access to hay, and you’re wondering how much that’s going to cost you?
Guinea pigs are smaller than rabbits so they’ll need a little less. An adult guinea pig will still eat 6-8 lbs. of hay each month. While young guinea pigs may only need 5 lbs.
With Timothy hay costing 30 dollars per 10 pounds, you’re looking at 20-24 dollars a month for Timothy hay for your guinea pig.
Timothy Hay for Chinchillas
Another guest for our Timothy hay party is the chinchilla. They also eat Timothy hay as a free choice food and spend their days chewing to keep their teeth short. Their bodies need a high fiber, low calcium diet. Too much calcium can result in bladder stones for chinchillas.
HOW MUCH HAY DOES A CHINCHILLA EAT?
A chinchilla will be 1-2 pounds so they eat much less than rabbits and guinea pigs. Let's estimate 6 ounces of hay per pound per week. If your chinchilla is 1.5 that makes 18 ounces per week.
18 X 4 = 72 ounces = 4.5 lbs. So you’re looking at 15 dollars a month for Timothy hay a month.
You might not expect tortoises to need a diet so similar to our furry friends. But if you look at where they live in the wild, you’ll see they fit right in with this crowd.
Timothy Hay For Tortoises
TORTOISES IN THE WILD
Grassland tortoises need Timothy hay because it’s so similar to the foraging material found in their natural habitat. Their bodies love the high fiber, low protein diet they get when they spend their days chomping on Timothy hay. When they get a diet too high in protein they can suffer from shell deformities.
In the wild, tortoises spend most of their day foraging for food. Consistently eating all day. While this is great for our domestic friends’ digestive systems, it also fills their day up with an activity similar to what they would have in the wild.
HOW MUCH HAY DOES A TORTOISE NEED?
85% of a grassland tortoise’s diet can be Timothy hay. However, tortoises can be picky. Some may prefer orchard grass, or they may not want much hay at all. Some tortoises burrow into the hay and love it in their habitat, but don’t eat a lot of it. Adult tortoises are more likely to want hay than young tortoises.
For this reason, it’s hard to predict how much hay you should have for your tortoise. Try it out in their habitat and let them tell you how much they need.
Timothy Hay For Prarie Dogs
Timothy hay is a free choice food for prairie dogs. All of these small animals need this low protein choice every day. 98% of a prairie dog's diet should be Timothy hay or another grass hay. So this food source is crucial to keep their bodies healthy.
It can be tempting to give your small animals pellets but it’s important to keep that type of food to a minimum with prairie dogs. The type of chewing done with a pellet is very different from that with hay. They need a full day of chewing to keep their teeth clean. Hay also has some grit and dirt that helps to keep their teeth clean.
Yep, that’s what I said. More dirt to keep their teeth clean. Consider it their toothpaste.
HOW MUCH TIMOTHY HAY SHOULD I GIVE MY PRAIRIE DOG?
We’re going to keep this simple for the prairie dogs. Try giving your animal 4 or 5 handfuls of Timothy hay a day. Make these handfuls equal to their body size.
You’ll discover how much hay they actually eat in a day and then adjust the portion. Keep their hay fresh so they stay interested and eat enough every day.
It’s important to know that prairie dogs are selective with the plants that they eat. They may only be eating parts of the hay strands (the parts with the most nutrients). This means there may be a lot of hay waste that you still want to clean out. That way you’re putting some fresh choices.
The Different Types Of Timothy Hay
Which Cut Does Your Animal Need?
1st Cutting Timothy Hay
When looking at Timothy hay, you’ll notice the stem, the leaf, and the flower. The stems have the most fiber in them. While the leaves have more fat and protein. The first cutting of Timothy hay yields the most stems.
Which means, you guessed it, the most fiber! It also has the flower head, which a lot of animals get excited about.
More stems also mean a coarser texture that requires more chewing. This is great because many small animals have teeth that just keep growing! Having lots of coarse hay to chew on files their teeth down. And also keeps their teeth clean!
On the other hand, some animals don’t have the energy to chew this hay all day. This leads to them eating less hay and possibly missing out on the nutrients they need. This is often the case with senior animals.
The more fiber your animal eats the fuller they get. So, if you have an animal who needs to lose a little fluff around the middle, 1st cut timothy hay can help them lose weight. And of course, all that fiber keeps their digestive tract working as it should. Animals with digestive tract issues may need to charge up their diet with the extra fiber of 1st cutting Timothy hay.
- Highest fiber content
- Great for filing down your rabbit’s teeth
- Promotes weight loss
- Includes flower heads
- Harder to chew hay, some animals can’t eat enough of it
- Lower fat and protein content
2nd Cutting Timothy Hay
2nd cutting Timothy hay has more leaves which means more protein and fat compared to first cutting Timothy hay. It still has plenty of fiber for a small animal's digestive system though! It’s a nice middle ground sweet spot for most rabbits. Whereas 3rd cutting Timothy hay has much less fiber than the first two cuts.
2nd cutting Timothy hay is easier to chew so most animals can eat a good amount of it. There are more leaves and the stems are softer with this cut. This is the most popular choice for adult rabbits who don’t have any health or weight issues.
- Softer stems that are easier to chew than 1st cut
- Most recommended cut for all healthy adult rabbits
- Less fiber than 1st cutting
3rd Cutting Timothy Hay
Now for the softest and leafiest cut! This type of hay is the rarest because many farmers stop after the 2nd cut. This is due to summer changing to fall and the weather doesn’t always cooperate.
We’re grateful for the farmers that push to do the 3rd cutting! Senior rabbits who aren’t in the greatest health need this soft cut to get the calories and nutrients they need. With the tougher cuts of hay, they just don’t have the energy to chew it all up.
Oral health is so important for rabbits and other small animals. If they’re suffering from any kind of mouth pain, a softer cut can help get hay into their belly.
There is much less fiber with this 3rd cutting, but it still has fiber. It also has the most fat and protein so if you do have an animal who can’t eat a lot, this cut will give them more calories to put weight on.
Some very picky eaters will only eat soft leaves. It’s a shame they miss out on the hefty fiber dose of earlier cuts, but at least you can get them some quality 3rd cutting!
- The softest cut with the most leaves
- Best option for gaining weight
- Good choice for animals suffering from mouth pain
- The least amount of fiber
- Highest fat and protein content
What About Alfalfa Hay?
We get the question: is Timothy hay the same as regular hay? There is no hay with no other name. All hay comes from a specific variation. When it comes to small animals as well as horses, Alfalfa hay is another type of hay you may come across. And no it is not the same as Timothy hay!
Alfalfa hay is a great option for young rabbits who need more fat and protein or animals who need to gain weight. It has more protein than all of the cuttings of Timothy hay. The fiber and fat content is similar to 3rd cutting Timothy Hay.
We had our hay analyzed so we could show you exactly what we’re talking about with these different types of hay.
As you can see, the protein content is the biggest difference when it comes to Alfalfa hay. For healthy adult rabbits, this number will be too high if their diet consists mostly of Alfalfa hay. Consider Alfalfa hay to be a protein shake for the little guys.
How Do You Know If It's Quality Timothy Hay?
Once you’ve figured out which cut of Timothy hay your animal needs, you need to look for quality. All of the great components of Timothy hay are compromised when you don’t have a high-quality source.