We all want what’s best for our horse. Low sugars and starch plus high fibre has long been known to be the cornerstone of a healthy equine diet. Many hard feeds are grain based, highly processed and not many contain much fibre. Teff hay though ticks all of the boxes mentioned above – it is very low in sugars and starch and is 100% fibre. That makes Teff such a great base feed for horses. There is a but that goes with everything as nothing is perfect. You see, Teff does have a few nutritional issues when fed on its own.
Teff does contain oxalates which bind up the calcium in your horse’s digestive tract and make some unabsorbable. This is because Teff is a warm climate, sub-tropical, C4 plant. Yes, I know, “but Teff is grown in southern parts of Australia”! Yes, it is but it grows during the hotter part of the year, not through winter well and it originated from parts of Africa. Anyway, it does contain some oxalates which, if fed enough for long enough, can lead to a calcium deficiency. It also is low in quality protein. Usually around 6 to 7% crude protein (CP). Now horses really don’t need a lot of protein unless they are young and growing or a late pregnancy mare but they do need quality, not quantity, protein. Teff is a little lacking here too. So, how can you help improve the quality of Teff? Simple, add a little bit of Lucerne with it!
Lucerne on its own isn’t the best feed for horses. It is high in digestible fibre, high in calcium and very, very high in protein but it is naturally low in sugars and starch. Add it to something like Teff and you get a marriage made in heaven (or something close). Remember, Teff contains some oxalates, binding up calcium. To counter this, you need to add more calcium. Lucerne is high in calcium (around 12 g in every kilo of Lucerne) and it is much more palatable than Limestone. Teff is also a bit low in quality protein. Lucerne is abundant in quality protein (around 20% CP with high levels of Lysine and Methionine, two key essential amino acids). Put the two together and you have a feed with good levels of crude protein (about 13 to 15%, perfect for most horses) and quality protein (Lysine, Methionine and Leucine).
So, if you are looking for a quality fibre feed for your horse, low in sugars and starch, with a balanced calcium to phosphorous ratio (after accounting for the calcium binding oxalates), and containing just the right quantity of quality protein, you really can’t go wrong considering a Teff and Lucerne mix.
Dr Mark Barnett PhD
MTB Equine Services