8 Types of Hay And Their Benefits

Hay is a crucial diet component for many animals, especially herbivores like horses, cows, and rabbits. It provides essential nutrients and fiber that aid digestion and promote overall health. Not all hay is created equal; various types are available, each with benefits. Understanding the types of hay can help animal owners make informed decisions about their pets’ dietary needs.

8 Different Types of Hay

When providing proper nutrition for livestock, the type of hay you choose can make all the difference. Legumes and grasses are two main categories of hay that offer distinct benefits for animal health and growth. Legumes such as alfalfa, clover, and soybean are known for their high protein content. They are an excellent choice for animals with higher nutritional needs, like lactating cows or young horses in training. These legume hays also provide essential minerals like calcium and phosphorus, crucial for bone development.

Grass hays like Timothy, Bermuda, and orchard grass offer different advantages. While they generally have lower protein levels than legume hays, they provide a more balanced diet for animals requiring moderate energy intake.

Alfalfa hay

Alfalfa Hay: A Nutritious and Versatile Feed Option for Livestock

When choosing the right type of hay for your livestock, alfalfa hay often stands out. Alfalfa is a perennial flowering plant that belongs to the legume family, known for its exceptional nutritional value and versatility as a feed source. 

Alfalfa hay is rich in protein, making it an excellent choice for animals with high protein requirements, such as horses, cattle, and goats. It contains essential amino acids vital for muscle development and overall growth. Also, alfalfa hay contains vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C. These nutrients promote healthy bone development and support proper bodily functions in animals. Alfalfa hay offers versatility in feeding options.


Widely considered the gold standard in hay for small animals, Timothy grass (Phleum pratense) is a perennial grass native to Europe and North America. This versatile grass species is highly sought for its rich fiber content, balanced protein levels, and low calcium and phosphorus content. These attributes make it an ideal choice for rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and other small herbivores.

There are several different types of Timothy hay available in the market today. First is First Cut Timothy Hay; this refers to the initial harvest of timothy grass when the plant is at its most mature stage.

Oat hay

Oat hay, a popular forage, is widely used to feed horses and other livestock. Derived from the oat plant, this hay variety offers several benefits due to its nutritional value and palatability. Oat hay is fiber-rich, making it an excellent choice for promoting healthy animal digestion. Its high protein content also provides essential amino acids for optimal growth and muscle development.

Animals often find oat hay more palatable than other grass or legume hay. This makes it a preferred choice among horse owners trying to entice picky eaters or those looking to add variety to their animal diets. The soft texture of oat hay makes it easier for animals with dental issues or sensitive mouths to consume comfortably.


Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata) is a perennial grass widely cultivated across North America. Its popularity stems from its high nutritional value and versatility, making it suitable for horses, cattle, sheep, and goats.

Animals enjoy consuming this types of hay due to its sweet aroma and taste. Orchardgrass has a high fiber content which aids digestion in animals and promotes gut health. This makes it an ideal choice for horses with sensitive stomachs or those prone to colic.

Smooth Bromegrass

Smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis) is a popular type of hay widely cultivated for its excellent forage qualities. This perennial cool-season grass belongs to the Poaceae family and is native to Europe and Asia. Smooth bromegrass has gained popularity due to its ability to adapt well to various soil types, including sandy soils, making it a versatile choice for many farmers.

A critical characteristic of smooth bromegrass is its exceptional palatability, which makes it highly desirable as livestock feed. Cattle and horses find this grass particularly tasty due to its sweet and succulent stems and leaves. Smooth bromegrass boasts high nutritional value as it contains adequate levels of proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals necessary for animal growth and health. Smooth bromegrass exhibits excellent persistence under grazing pressure or cutting cycles.


Clover, a type of legume, is renowned for its versatility and numerous benefits as a hay crop. With its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, clover enriches the land while providing high-quality forage for livestock. Several clover varieties are commonly used as hay crops, each with unique characteristics and advantages.

One popular type is red clover (Trifolium pratense), known for its vibrant pink-purple flowers. Red clover hay is highly palatable to animals and has a high nutritional value due to its protein content. It also contains beneficial phytoestrogens that have been shown to promote reproductive health in livestock. Another widely cultivated variety is white clover (Trifolium repens), which forms dense mats of low-growing foliage.


Fescue hay is an excellent choice for most horses due to its many desirable qualities. This grass species grows tall and broad, providing ample grazing material for horses of all sizes. Fescue has a low sugar content, making it a suitable option for horses that need to watch their intake of carbohydrates. It is known for its palatability, which means that most horses will readily eat it without any issues.

One group of horses that should avoid fescue hay is pregnant mares. Fescue contains a naturally occurring endophyte fungus called Neotyphodium coenophialum, which can adversely affect a mare’s reproductive health. The fungus produces ergotamine, a toxin that can interfere with the mare’s hormonal balance and cause complications during pregnancy.

Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass, commonly known as coastal hay, has long been a popular choice for feeding horses due to its availability and affordability. Recent studies have shown that Bermuda grass is lower in protein than other grass hays. While this may raise concerns among horse owners who prioritize high-protein diets for their equine companions, it is crucial to understand that Bermuda grass still offers significant nutritional value.

Despite its lower protein content, Bermuda grass remains a good source of nutrition for most horses. It contains essential vitamins and minerals necessary for maintaining overall health and well-being. The low-protein aspect can also benefit certain horses with specific dietary needs or health conditions such as insulin resistance or metabolic disorders where a high-protein diet could exacerbate symptoms.

What is the Difference Between Legume Hay and Grass Hay?

Types of Hay And Their Benefits

Legume hay generally has a higher nutritional content than grass hay due to its higher protein and calcium levels. It is also typically more expensive than grass hay because it takes longer to grow and harvest. Legume hay can be difficult to digest for some animals, so it should be fed in moderation.

Grass hay is lower in protein and calcium than legume hay but still provides essential nutrients for livestock. It is typically cheaper than legume hay and easier to digest for animals, making it a good choice for horses and other grazing animals.


Several types of hay are available for different animals and their specific needs. Timothy hay is famous for rabbits and guinea pigs due to its high fiber content and low protein levels. Alfalfa hay is rich in nutrients and is commonly fed to young, growing animals or those needing extra nutrition. Orchard grass hay provides a balanced mix of nutrients and can be fed to various animals, including horses, goats, and sheep.

Bermuda grass hay is a highly palatable warm-season grass often used as a source of forage for horses. Understanding the benefits of each types of hay can help ensure that our furry friends receive the proper nutrition they need to thrive.

Maria Khan