Jethro’s Nokota® Ruminations 1:2 Happy Thanksgiving, Timothy, and Black Friday Bypass

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Timothy
Consideration in the last issue of essential amino acids (and past articles can always be easily found on our blog: https://djuptonokotas.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/jethros-nokota-ruminations-vol-11/) led to some questions about what is a good hay based diet, and that is such a profound & good question that i think needs to be broken down by grass species.  So let’s start with one of the most well known, sought after, and at least in some places premium priced, timothy.
Timothy has a long and proud history as hay, and if you have worked with a scythe and/or the traditional human muscle intensive hay drying methods you can understand in large part why.  It grows upright and straight in relatively fine clusters that do not form tight & high scythe blade destorying clumps like tuvtåtel, instead timothy plants cut rather cleanly and effortlessly with a scythe (or machinery), dry comparatively easily and well, and are more cooperative than many plants to collect with a rake and/or baler.  While continuing with its positive aspects, timothy is conducive to farming and crop rotations and establishes well with good planting and fertilizing techniques (including organic fertilizer which was of course the rule up until just a few generations ago) while also being effectively destroyed when desired via plowing because it has shallow roots that do not regenerate new crowns.  It is tolerant of  cold weather and native here in northern Sweden.  Plus timothy is one of the safer cool season grasses for horses at a high risk of founder, at least according to most sources and theories.  http://www.thehorse.com/articles/16767/hay-for-the-laminitic-horse,   http://www.johnthevet.co.uk/fructans.php,   http://www.halleysfeeds.co.uk/articles/TimWatsonBVMS_May2012.html
But even considering all of those benefits, i feel that i need to balance out the reputation of “king timothy”, the cornerstone of most haying programs here, and also write about its shortcomings, which certainly do not render it necessarily inferior but which should be always considered because timothy is definitely not the best option for every situation or every horse.  
Timothy grows and matures quickly, even in the far north, but the flip-side of this strength is that it also becomes overmature very quickly.  It has been recorded losing as much as 0.7% digestability per day after prime harvesting time http://www.feedipedia.org/node/16886, and thus in my experience it is not hard to find timothy hay that is rather deficient in useable protein and other nutrients.  It is true that horses evolved amid and are adapted to a “low octane” diet in comparison to cows, especially modern milk cows which are fed obscenely rich feeds and grasses developed to contain much more sugars and carbohydrates that typically found in nature, so this lower feed value of timothy is not always a disadvantage to a horse, as horses need much roughage/fiber for their systems to function properly, yet timothy’s feed value does need to be understood when trying to feed young, growing, high output, or elderly individuals or considering the “bang for your buck” of your next hay purchase. Mature timothy can be great if your plan is to let your gelding have free choice of a big round bale until it is gone because it will slow him down a bit, and a horse can eat much faster than it needs to, especially if bored, so even with overmature timothy an easy keeper with little to do could still grow fatter. Conversely, if you are feeding youngsters, as we are here, and rationing their feed over 3 to 5 feedings a day to limit wastage and spread out the consumption, and pay for the hay by the bale regardless of what it contains then you can quickly understand why we would prefer not to have overmature timothy hay; it is more work, cost, and waste for the same level of nourishment.
Furthermore, even though lush immature timothy plants can top 20% protein (and at this growth stage may also have a high amount of potentially worrisome for laminitis water soluble non-structural carbohydrates), timothy is a bit deficient in lysine relative to its total protein content.  The National Research Council has through much research decided that 4.3% of a horse’s dietary crude protein should be lysine http://books.google.se/books?id=EBoXrYCkFUQC&lpg=PA198&ots=_2TMb34d28&dq=NRC%20horse%20lysine%20percent&hl=sv&pg=PA198#v=onepage&q=NRC%20horse%20lysine%20percent&f=false​.  So since timothy has only 3% of its crude protein as lysine it is better balanced by combining with clover (5%) or other lycine rich plants (typically legumes) like vetch that are themselves richer than necessary in lysine.  Or you could always supplement lysine directly… or even just feed an excess of timothy in terms of energy and/or total protein to simply reach the lysine requirement if that is the cheapest option and there is no problem with weight gain.
A relatively easy online (and downloadable) program to calculate your horse’s specific needs, and even compare them to several feeds and calculated intake, is provided by the National Research Council at:  http://nrc88.nas.edu/nrh/   On the top blue horizontal tool bar select “Animal Specification”, then enter the weight and expected mature weight along with other details and you can quickly see that our harness mare, Grå Törnskata, for example should have 26 grams of lysine a day.  Saves a lot of time on the calculator, and you can do much more with this program if you wish🙂  And below is another table that can be helpful when considering lysine, too:
Feed type Equation to estimate lysine from crude protein if actual lysine content is unknown:  http://www.ker.com/library/advances/218.pdf
Alfalfa hay Crude protein x .042
Clover hay Crude protein x .050
Timothy hay Crude protein x .030 (actually ranges from 2.9 – 4.1% http://www.feedipedia.org/node/16888
Bermuda grass hay Crude protein x .035
Bluegrass pasture Crude protein x .027
Oat hay Crude protein x .031
Corn silage Crude protein x .051
Returning to considerations of timothy, it is also relatively sensitive to overgrazing because it stores its reserves in the lower stems, well within reach of hungry mouths.  And please remember when reading about any species and following the links that the recommendations will vary greatly with your locale, especially dates for seeding, cutting, etc, seeding rates, and even nutritive properties.  For example, here in northern Sweden our days during the growing season are very, very long; on midsummer it never truly gets dark, just dusky.  Furthermore, the nights are characteristically cool, so photosynthesis can occur over very long portions of each “day” and the plant needs to waste little of this via respiration at “night”, thus plants can potentially concentrate much more sugar.  Our carrots, berries, potatoes, etc truly are sweeter than in most other places and likewise horses at high lattitudes are at a greater risk of founder/laminitis, particularly if allowed to graze modern grasses developed for milk cows without end when already fat and excercising little.  So if you hear food connosiurs claiming that the best berries come from close to the poles, they actually do have some facts behind them if sweet is what you seek.
So long story short, things are always more complicated than they seem and so there is a lot to consider, and typically hay mixtures are best, but timothy sure can be a great hay and a great choice for the majority of most equines’ diets, especially with a small amount of legume mixed in or fed at the same time.
Black Friday Bypass
Personally, one of the things i am most thankful for is an awesome home (and that means the entire farm) full of opportunities (aka Nokota horses and range for them), so i really am not keen to leave that for the hustle of town, especially not to partake in consumeristic chaos in the quest for holiday gifts.  So what better alternative than to order online gifts like the freshly printed 2014 Nokota calendar http://www.nokota.org/store/index.php?act=viewProd&productId=97, artwork, stationary, sponsorships including the opportunity to name a young Nokota, clothing including sweatpants you can wear in comfort as you shop at home, etc😉  The only thing better than avoiding the crowds and fuel pumps is the satisfaction of knowing that you are also helping to preserve deserving American heritage, as the Nokota Horse Conservancy is a non-profit organization with the proceeds helping to sustain its core herd of the most rare bloodlines of fully foundation Nokota horses.
Disclaimer:  There is always a strong chance that I don’t know what I am talking about, and these views are entirely my own and not in any way necessarily reflective of those of the Nokota® Horse Conservancy or any other individual.  Read widely, seek multiple opinions, and think freely :-D  I know that this will be read by many who are more wise, educated, and experienced in a multitude of ways than myself and look forward to their responses, even if they contradict me, so please do not hesitate!  Our blog is a great place to discuss further, and if you have a question it very well can be helpful to share, so please feel free to comment and share!
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