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What Is Timothy Hay?
The Beginners Guide

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.


Timothy Hay For Tortoises

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.

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

Description

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.

The Pros

  • Highest fiber content
  • Great for filing down your rabbit’s teeth
  • Promotes weight loss
  • Includes flower heads

The Cons

  • Harder to chew hay, some animals can’t eat enough of it
  • Lower fat and protein content

2nd Cutting Timothy Hay

Description

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.

The Pros

  • Softer stems that are easier to chew than 1st cut
  • Most recommended cut for all healthy adult rabbits

The Cons

  • Less fiber than 1st cutting

3rd Cutting Timothy Hay

Description

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 Pros

  • The softest cut with the most leaves
  • Best option for gaining weight
  • Good choice for animals suffering from mouth pain

The Cons

  • 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.

After learning about the different cuts of Timothy hay, you now know what to look for when buying each type. If something doesn’t quite add up, then you know you don’t have a quality product.

For example, is your first cutting Timothy hay full of leaves and the stems are soft and floppy? Then you have a problem with quality.

The next thing you want to do is give it a good sniff.

Fresh Smell

Nothing ruins a day more than a musty mold smell enveloping your nostrils upon opening your new Timothy hay. Quality hay smells fresh because it’s been properly dried and packaged so that there isn’t moisture in the bag.

If you think your hay has an offsetting smell, so will your animals. And if nobody wants to eat the hay, then all you have is an expensive ground covering.

Good Color

Hay needs to be exposed to enough sun to eliminate moisture, but not too much sun to where it’s overexposed. You want hay that still has a green color to it! Nutrients are compromised with too much sun exposure so when the color goes, you know some nutrients have gone with it.

Of course, color variation is normal with any natural product but color gives you a general idea of the quality you’re dealing with.


Ideal Climate Conditions For Timothy Hay

Not everyone can grow timothy grass. It requires a specific climate. The best places to grow Timothy grass are at high altitudes with harsh winters and summers. This is where you’ll have warm days and cool nights.

Timothy grass is hardy. Its root system can survive harsh winters so that it’s ready to take off in the Spring - when Timothy grows the best! The cold winters kill off weeds and pests making better growing conditions come Spring as well.

The weather also affects the drying of the hay. In a windier climate, the grass will dry out faster, preserving nutrients and color. The quicker the hay can dry the less risk of the hay being exposed to rain and humidity. Or even too much sun. Too much sun will zap the hay of its color.

So locations near mountain ranges are the best for growing and drying Timothy hay. To the mountains!

Growing Regions

• Ellensburg - Washington State
• The Columbia Basin - Washington State
• Twin Falls - Idaho
• Diamond Valley - Nevada

Others:
• Eastern Oregon
• Northern California


What Factors Create High-Quality Timothy Hay?

Weather

We talked about the perfect location and climate, but sometimes the weather can be unpredictable. Timothy hay needs a long spring with frequent rain mixed in with days of full sun.

In the summer, a lot of heat slows down the growing process. Too much heat will cause the hay to go dormant! See how mother nature can really mess with some tasty plans?

Then, if the farmer and mother nature are really in sync, the spring growing season will start early enough and the fall growing season will go long enough to get a 3rd cutting of Timothy hay.

Additionally, some fields get different conditions than others.

For example, a valley may get more shadow from the mountainside. This will cool the field off and you may get something resembling 3rd cutting Timothy hay when it’s only the second cut.

Cooler weather makes the hay leafy, while hotter temperatures get you more stems. Though later in the season regardless you’ll get more leaves.

Soil Conditions

Timothy grass likes the soil to be slightly acidic. You find soil like this in volcanic regions. So mountain ranges with past volcanic activity are ideal.

Farming and growing practices

If you’ve ever grown a garden, then you know how hard it is to keep weeds out of your vegetables. Now, imagine entire fields full of crops. That’s a lot of space for weeds to get into.

In order to keep a field clean of weeds, the farmers must be very meticulous. Some strategies to help with the weeding process are:

  • Rotating fields so weeds don’t become established
  • New seeding
  • Keeping the field’s soil level
  • Having regular quality weeding practices

Why is this so important? When Timothy grass spends too much time with the weeds, the weeds get harvested too. Consequently, you may end up with a bundle of Timothy hay that isn’t all Timothy hay.

When you find the farmers with the cleanest fields, you get the cleanest product.

Timing and Cutting

A farmer will cut the hay at different times depending on their goals. Many farmers will wait longer before they cut their hay because they’re trying to get a high yield (the most hay they can get). However, cutting the hay earlier results in softer hay - which many rabbits and guinea pigs love.

Waiting too long to cut the hay results in an overmature product which is of lower quality from a nutritional standpoint as well.

Farmers are busy people. They have many crops to deal with and cutting the hay at the perfect time isn’t always a top priority. But when you find the farmers that really focus on quality planting and harvesting practices, you can see a big difference in the final product.


Hand Packaging VS Machine Packaging

Machine packaging is very popular with companies selling small animal food. This is where the company will buy hay in bulk from the farmers, then use machines to stuff the hay into bags in mass quantities.

Alternatively, the companies that hand package the hay are able to use minimal handling with maximum care. Instead of running the hay through machines, they can keep the hay in its original baled state and flake it into the box without over-handling it.

The Problem with Machine Packaging

Timothy hay is delicate. When it’s run through a machine, a lot of the product is pulverized. It shows up as the dusty leftovers at the bottom of a bag of hay.

Another benefit to the hand-packaged boxes compared to the machine-packaged bags is actually the color of the hay. The hay that is packaged in transparent bags spends more time getting bleached by the light. Whereas the boxed hay shows up at your door fresher.

Then you really run into problems when you have a combination of overhandling the hay and packaging it in bags. Even if you have some great farming practices, things can really go South there at the end if the company gets careless.


Organic Timothy Hay

Organic Timothy is grown without pesticides or synthetic chemicals. These are used to maximize the yield of the crop. Farmers will also use fertilizer to produce more hay.

Regular hay may be fertilized with artificial nutrients. Organic Timothy hay is only fertilized by real manure.

Finding top-quality Timothy hay that was also grown organically is a real challenge. Partly because there isn’t a huge market for it.

Imagine the small circle of farmers producing organic Timothy hay. And then imagine the small circle of farmers that produce Timothy hay that is up to Small Pet Select’s quality standards. Those two small circles don’t always intersect to give us a quality organic resource for hay.

This is why in the past Small Pet Select hasn’t had organic hay available for our community. However, this year we did get lucky and found a good source for organic Timothy hay and we hope to continue to get lucky in the organic space in the future as well.

Timothy Hay Flower heads

Let’s talk a little more about flower heads. Mostly because our rabbit friends told us we had to. Timothy flower heads are in high demand.  

When Timothy first flowers, the buds are green. This is when the farmer needs to cut it. If the heads start to turn purple or any color other than green then the plant has been left to mature too long.

1st cutting Timothy hay has the most flower heads but 2nd cutting Timothy hay will also have some. Just not as much as a little rabbit wishes it did.

Many animals love the flower heads, but they don’t all love the tougher stems with the 1st cutting. For this reason, we’ve created a product of all stems. That way you can buy whichever cutting your rabbit likes the best, and then include the flower heads as a treat.

It makes an excellent cherry on top.


3 Key Factors Why Small Pet Select
Delivers the Best Timothy Hay
Product On The Market

When you open a box of Timothy hay from Small Pet Select, the quality is obvious. There are a lot of gears working together to make sure this is the case.

Our Extensive Network of Growers

We’ve created a network of growers across the West coast. We travel 20,000 miles every summer to visit farms in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada. We make these trips to meet many different farmers and to see the hay in person.

Even the best farmer doesn’t have top-quality hay in the cards for them every year. That’s why we continue to build our network so that we can be selective when we pick out our hay each year.

With so many variables affecting the final product a farmer can sell each season, it’s important for us at Small Pet Select to have options. We don’t buy from the same farmers every year. Because farmers don’t have the good stuff every year. But when they do, they know who to call. Because we pay enough to make them think twice about giving all the good stuff to the horses!

Intense Quality Standards

It would be nice if we could find the best farmers and buy from them every year. In the world of hay, it doesn’t work that way. Mother nature makes sure that one single farmer can’t get it perfect every year. The first place trophy must be shared.

However, due to our large network of growers, we’re able to maintain the highest standards. We don’t get stuck when weather ruins the crop in some places or the crop isn’t cut at the perfect time. Because we have plenty of options to be selective with. With enough resources, we don’t hesitate to turn down low-quality hay.

We can be picky because we go to see the hay in person. We can check the color, the moisture level, and evaluate how much weed contamination there’s been. We look at many bales of hay to find the few that allow us to stay true to our quality standards.

Minimal Handling with Maximum Care

After doing so much work to get the best hay, it would be a shame to go and ruin the product right at the end. This is where a lot of our competitors get it wrong.

We never send the hay through a machine. We don’t stuff it in bags. We have a person for each package. That’s right, a real person looking at each one. What you get with this careful handling is a box of hay that is as close to the hay in the fields as possible.

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