Rabbit Hay & Grass
Why Timothy Hay?

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What is Timothy Hay?

Why is Timothy Hay good for rabbits?

What does 1st, 2nd and 3rd cutting mean?

These are some typical question most bunny owners would like to get answers for.

The answers come from a  very informed lady called Linda Sterett-Fogarty, who runs a ranch in Lincoln County, USA

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The following excerpt is taken from The House Rabbit Journal
Vol. 4, Nr. 7 - Summer 2002

Read the Full Article
Rabbit Hay in Your Bunny's Diet

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The Basics of a Good Rabbit Diet

Forage cannot be grown during a major portion of the year due to cold temperatures. Since animals need a continuous supply of food, the storing of hay is critical. The haying process allows us to harvest and store hay grown during favorable weather conditions for use during less favorable conditions. The process starts in the spring when the days become sufficiently warm and the length of daylight hours increases . This stimulates the plants that have been lying dormant over the winter to begin their growing process. Where our ranch is in Lincoln County, WA , this growing process usually begins in April. There are many variables that can affect this process, not the least of which is the temperature of the nights. April nights in this area can be in the 30s which causes a longer growing period. In order for good growth to begin, not only do the days need to have warm temperatures, but the nights need to have temperatures ranging above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grass will grow slightly faster in cooler weather than the legumes, such as alfalfa. Alfalfa grows best when the temperatures are hot. It typically takes approximately 60 days for new growth of alfalfa, 60 for mix hay, 60 for orchard grass, and 75-80 for timothy in Lincoln County .

Timothy grass, a perennial bunchgrass, is a cool-season forage grass. It is slow growing and has a low yield in the field. It has been our experience that 1st and 2nd cutting timothy grass hay works well for animals with a delicate digestive system, skin problems, issues with diarrhea and weight problems. Timothy can, however, go as high as 18% protein just before bloom (we've never had one test this high) and can fall as low as 4-6% protein in the late bloom state.

Where our ranch is located in Eastern Washington , we get a 1st cutting (the fir s t crop taken off a field in any given year), a second cutting (the second crop taken off that same field in that given year), and possibly a third cutting (the third crop taken off that same field in that given year), provided Mother Nature complies and gives us enough sunshine, dry days, and warm nights. Mother Nature is, however, very unpredictable! You learn to make hay while the sun shines, as the old saying goes.

First Cutting: The first growth off of a field for the year is the "first cutting." Many people erroneously feel that first cutting hay is not to be considered as good feed. We tend to disagree, provided it is of good quality and was cut when relatively immature (pre-bloom stage), before the plant is allowed to mature to the point where the stem becomes larger and coarser. This is when the lignin (an indigestible part of the fiber component associated with cellulose and hemicellulose in the cell wall) content has become sufficiently high so as to make the hay more unpalatable and indigestible and the nutritive value has declined greatly. This can happen with 1st, 2nd, or any cutting of hay if left growing too long.

Second Cutting: Depending upon the temperatures of the days and nights, it typically takes 40-45 days for regrowth of alfalfa, mix hay, and orchardgrass , and 55- 60 days for regrowth of timothy. This is termed the "second cutting," which usually has a larger percentage of leaves to stems, has a finer and softer stem, has increased percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and has a lower crude fiber percentage (depending upon the stage of maturity at which it was cut) . More non-structural carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and protein are in the leaves than in the stems. These starches and sugars are very digestible and make the hay higher quality.

Third Cutting: If the growing season is long enough on any given year, it may be possible to secure a third cutting. In regions that lie south of our location, the growing season is longer and hotter, making alfalfa the prime hay crop, and often as many as four or five cuttings may be taken from a single field.

The third cutting is typically very soft hay that is primarily leaves with very few small stems. While beautiful to look at, it can be "rich" (high in nutrients, having a high Relative Feed Value or RFV, and low in fiber). It is our opinion that third cutting hay does not contain sufficient fiber content to be the only hay in the diet of most rabbits. It can, however, be used in conjunction with a higher fiber, good quality, relatively immature 1st or 2nd cutting hay, and creates greater variety and interest in the chewing experience. We suggest that you feed the different hays at different meals so as to eliminate waste.

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