In Central Oregon, almost all horse owners buy orchard grass for their animals,  and the farmers have responded and now probably 90% of the hay in the area is either Orchard or Timothy grass.  These are two great feeds, but are expensive to grow and some horse owners are becoming concerned with high sugar levels in the two grasses.  Cattle don’t do as good on grass hay as the protein levels are lower (9-14%) than alfalfa or other high protein feeds. 

     This post is going to address some other options that I encourage you to investigate for your horses or cattle.  Readers in other areas might laugh at this article,  but its amazing how narrow-minded hay consumers are in Central Oregon.  Part of the reason of our myopic mindset is our cold climate,  and most growers of forage have given up on most crops because of the difficulty of raising cold sensitive crops.  Another reason is that orchard grass has been pushed on the horse industry for the last twenty or so years in the Northwest. 

So on to some alternative options for feed.

  1. Oat hay.  Oats are grown in the area as a cover crop, and is relatively easy to find.  Oats are high energy, pretty low in protein, but it’s best virtue is that it has minerals that grass hay does not have.  Another great attribute of oats is that the stalks are not super palatable,  which means horses take their time-consuming their feed which keeps them from gorging themselves at feeding time and then getting hungry mid day.  Here are a few links for more information about the plant.
  2. Wheat Hay.  Wheat is grown mostly in the Madras area and is combined.  However as a grower, I am looking into raising wheat as a forage and haying it.  Wheat hay is pretty comparable to Alfalfa for protein content if harvested at the right time,  but it does not have the calcium content of Alfalfa, which some horses can be sensitive to.  Wheat hay is practically non-existent in Central Oregon,  but like any other crop, if a demand for it arises, a farmer will listen and provide it for the area.

Although both wheat and oat hay are hard to find in the area, like anything, once there is a demand and consumers start asking for it, farmers will respond.  One great perk for both of the new feeds is that they are more inexpensive to grow than grasses, thus lowering the cost.  If one is feeding 30 horses and go through 80 ton per year and the hay is $30 less per ton, the savings is $2400.  The savings alone makes it worth looking into, but like every feed,  ask your vet about the two feeds before purchasing it for your horse.