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The Teff Hay Trap

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

A friendly reminder from a teff hay researcher to test your teff and do NOT assume!

 

What is the Teff Trap?

Good Morning! Hello. The teff hay researcher is me, Natalie Sullivan (formerly Shaw), owner of On Course Equine Nutrition and article writer. Between 2015 and 2018, as part of my graduate thesis, I planted, harvested and studied a dozen teff hay plots across Oregon and Washington in pursuit of the perfect teff hay for horses! With the help of many generous farmers and my primary advisor, Dr. Steve Fransen, a 40+ year forage extension specialist, we investigated nine different factors that had the potential to affect the non-structural carbohydrate profile of teff hay. If you'd like to learn more about those research results, you can simply navigate to my Low Carb Horse Hay Project page. All of that is to say, that I know a thing or two about teff grass. I've looked at hundreds and hundreds of teff hay nutrient profiles. I've seen the good teff and bad teff. I know what teff hay farmers are working against. I know how the warm-season grass plant's carbohydrate metabolism differs from the cool-season grasses that you are used to. I know that, on average, due to this unique carbohydrate metabolism, when grown under the same conditions, teff TENDS to be lower in non-structural carbohydrates, but it's NOT a guarantee!



Yes, read that again. Teff grass can be high carb. Over the years, I've see many teff samples over 20% NSC. It can also be relatively high in calories (well over 100 RFV). The TEFF TRAP is the assumption that all teff is low carb and low calorie as though it's a static product grown within tight parameters. The truth is, growing and harvesting hay is much more an art form than a manufacturing process. What I've been noticing a lot this year is horse owners falling into this teff trap and purchasing teff hay without a forage test. What I need you to know and then tell ALL of your horse friends is that there is no guarantee of teff's carbs or calories. It is NOT always low carb nor low calorie. We MUST insist on forage testing- either from our forage growers or by doing it yourself!


One of the major reasons for teff's variability is the fact that it is an annual. In plant biology that means that the grass plant completely dies after freezing, so it has to be replanted every year by the farmer. There is also a lot of variability in HOW farmers use teff as a rotational crop. Because of it's relatively short growing season, it can be used behind many first cutting crops like garlic or barley and sometimes simply as a summer cover crop. Basically, the process of growing teff grass is far from standardized, and this lack of standardization can be tricky for horses at risk for laminitis.



Our ultimate goal is greater horse health. The metabolic minis, laminitic lawn mowers, and forever fatties of the horse world need you...they need us to facilitate a forage culture change and teff hay is the perfect medium to start that shift. How can you be an influencer in this culture change? You just ask! When I was a graduate student talking to every forage grower that I could, the resounding message from them was "people don't ask"! So, just ask if they have done a test, don't demand, and if they say no, then offer to do the forage test yourself and share the results. If you ask, and the next potential buyer asks, and then another and another and another, the progressive forage grower will test! All equestrian communities need to make a habit of asking forage growers to test, but we also need to be polite about it in order to build a strong, healthy bridge across this communication gap. So, here are some speaking points to help you out.



SPEAKING POINTS TO ADDRESS YOUR FORAGE GROWER OR DISTRIBUTOR

  1. Yes, hello, my name is *** and my horse suffers from x, y, z disease. I'm trying to find hay with a non-structural carbohydrate below 12% and a relative feed value below 90. Do you think any of your forage products fit this description?

  2. Oh, you have never done a forage test on your hay products before? Well, I would love to pay for it and share the results with you. It's actually quite easy, and many of your customers would benefit. Could you help me do that?

  3. Hello, I see that you have teff hay for sale. That's very exciting. Thank you for growing it and making it available for horses. Is there any chance that you have tested it for carbohydrates and calories? There are many horses in my area that would benefit from a low carb/low calorie teff grass, but I realize that there are many environmental factors that make teff a challenge to grow.


I know that you are all very smart, kind humans that can come up with many more ways to politely address your farmers, but if you need more resources to educate yourself before this conversation occurs, here they are...


"How to Test Your Hay" by OCEN, LLC: Every step and resource linked that you need to test your first hay source.


"The Low Carb Horse Hay Project Page" by OCEN: Lots of articles about the benefits of teff grass and how to grow it to be low carb.






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