For rabbit owners, providing the highest quality timothy hay is one of the most important duties to keep bunnies healthy and happy. But what exactly is timothy hay and why is it so crucial for your rabbit’s wellbeing? Where does timothy hay come from and how is it harvested? Are there nutritional differences between cuttings? How much should you feed and should you splurge on organic? This in-depth guide will cover everything you need to know about sourcing the best timothy hay to keep your bunny’s teeth trimmed, digestion regular, and behavior enriched. From tips on growth, harvesting and nutritional content to organic options, you’ll learn how to pick the perfect timothy hay for your furry friend. Get ready to become a timothy hay pro!
Growing Timothy Hay
Timothy hay is a staple food source for pet rabbits, providing important fiber and nutrients. But where does timothy hay come from? Timothy hay is a type of grass hay that is commonly fed to rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals. It is made from the dried leaves and stems of the timothy grass plant, Phleum pratense.
Timothy grass is a perennial cool-season bunchgrass native to most of Europe except for the Mediterranean region. It is one of the most widespread grasses in temperate regions around the world, partly due to its popularity as a hay crop. Timothy grass was brought to the United States by European colonists in the 1700s and has naturalized across much of North America since then.
Timothy grass thrives in cool, moist climates and grows best in well-drained loamy or clay soils. It prefers full sun but can tolerate light shade. The grass grows to be about 2-4 feet tall at maturity. It produces flattened, blunt seed heads from late spring through summer.
Farmers grow timothy as a hay crop because it produces high yields of very palatable and nutritious hay that livestock, especially horses, really enjoy eating. Hay farmers carefully manage their timothy fields to maximize hay production. This involves soil testing, irrigation, weed control, fertilization, and avoiding overgrazing during the growing season.
The timothy is allowed to grow until the plants reach optimum maturity for harvest. This is usually when the grass is in the late bud to early head stage of growth. Harvesting too early reduces yields and provides lower nutritional value. Harvesting too late risks the hay becoming stemmy and unpalatable. Most timothy grass is cut two or three times per growing season.
Harvesting Timothy Hay
Knowing when and how to properly harvest timothy hay is very important for producing a high quality product for your bunnies. Here is an overview of timothy hay harvesting basics:
Timing – As mentioned, timothy should be cut when the grass reaches the late bud to early head stage. This is usually 6-8 weeks after new spring growth begins. Cutting too early means lower yields. Cutting too late reduces nutrition and palatability.
Cutting – Timothy can be cut by hand with scythes or sickles but most commercial farmers use swathers, or hay mowers, to cut the grass. The cut grass is allowed to wilt and dry in the sun for 1-3 days. This drying process allows the cut timothy to retain more nutrients.
Raking – After partial drying, the cut grass is raked into long straight rows or windrows to help speed up the drying process. This allows better air circulation through the cut grass.
Baling – Once the moisture content drops to around 15-20%, the timothy is picked up and baled using either square or round balers. Square bales are easier for small pet owners to handle. The bales are then moved to a storage area protected from rain and excessive moisture.
Proper curing, baling and storage are extremely important to prevent mold growth and loss of nutritional value. High-quality timothy hay has a pleasant, grassy aroma and green color.
1st Cutting Timothy Hay
Timothy hay is typically harvested multiple times during the growing season. The nutritional value and characteristics vary somewhat depending on which cutting of timothy you purchase for your bunny. Here’s an overview of first cut timothy hay:
Timing – The first cutting is taken about 6-8 weeks after new spring growth begins, usually May to early June. This cutting allows high yield since the grass is nearing maturity.
Nutrition – The first cutting of timothy is more nutritious than later cuttings, with higher protein, fiber and energy. It contains more seed heads and leaves versus stems. The protein is around 7-11%.
Palatability – The softer, leafier texture of first cut timothy makes it very palatable with excellent taste. Rabbits readily consume high amounts.
Appearance – First cut timothy has a greenish color mixed with some yellow or beige. It contains more seed heads and diverse shapes and sizes of stems.
Benefits – The higher nutrition and palatability of first cut timothy make it a great choice to feed your bunny. The diversity of textures also helps wear down teeth. Many pet owners prefer first cut.
Overall, the first cutting of timothy hay provides an excellent source of nutrition and fiber for rabbits in a form they really relish eating. It’s a win-win for supporting your bunny’s health and happiness.
2nd Cutting Timothy Hay
Many rabbit owners also feed their bunnies the second cutting of timothy hay. Here's an overview of the key characteristics of 2nd cut timothy:
Timing – The second harvest occurs about 5-7 weeks after the first cutting, typically June to July. Allowing a second cutting increases total yields.
Nutrition – Protein and nutrient levels are slightly lower than the first cutting but still relatively high at around 6-9% protein.
Palatability – Second cut timothy is often more stemmy with fewer leaves and heads. Rabbits consume less than first cutting.
Appearance – Straw-like golden color since it contains mostly stems with fewer green leaves or seed heads.
Benefits – Still provides decent nutrition and the long stems are great for dental health. The stems rub against the teeth to wear them down. Some bunnies prefer the more mature stems.
In summary, second cutting timothy makes a good addition to a rabbit's diet by supplementing some diversity. It can be fed in combination with leafier hays. The long stems provide added dental health benefits. Check your rabbit's preferences and watch to ensure they eat enough of the 2nd cutting.
3rd Cutting Timothy Hay
Some rabbit owners also incorporate a later cutting of timothy into their pet's diet. Here's an overview of 3rd cut timothy hay:
Timing – The third cutting is taken about 5-7 weeks after second cutting, typically August to September before frost. This allows another re-growth and harvest of the timothy grass.
Nutrition – Protein and nutrient levels decline even further, with protein around 5-8%. Calcium levels are also lower.
Palatability – Very stemmy and fibrous with mostly hollow, golden stems and minimal leaves or seed heads. Rabbits will eat but it's not their favorite.
Appearance – Mostly long, hollow golden stems with limited greenness. The stems are thin, wispy and dried out.
Benefits – The coarseness and long stems provide benefits for dental health by rubbing against the teeth. Useful to mix in with leafier hays.
Third cut timothy is best used as a supplement to add stemmy fiber to help wear down continuously growing rabbit teeth. Be sure to also provide plenty of leafier hays and limited pellets to balance its lower nutrition. Monitor to ensure your rabbit consumes enough third cut timothy when mixed with other hays.
Why You Need Timothy Hay For Rabbits
You really can't raise a healthy, happy house rabbit without a good supply of timothy hay. Here are some of the key reasons why timothy hay is so important for rabbits:
Fiber – Rabbits have delicate digestive systems requiring a high-fiber diet. Timothy hay provides long-strand fiber that promotes healthy peristaltic gut contractions and good dental health.
Teeth – Rabbit teeth grow continuously throughout their lives. The abrasive action of timothy hay helps grind them down and prevent overgrowth issues.
Nutrition – In addition to fiber, timothy hay provides nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals to support good rabbit health.
Behavior – Rabbits love to nibble hay all day long. Timothy hay satisfies their natural grazing behavior and provides enrichment.
Healthy weight – The indigestible fiber in timothy hay provides bulk and satisfies rabbits without excess calories that lead to obesity.
GI stasis prevention – Timothy hay keeps things moving through a rabbit's digestive tract to prevent potentially fatal stasis issues.
The bottom line is that timothy hay is crucial for your rabbit's health, happiness and wellbeing. Feeding a variety of premium hays ensures your bunny stays in great shape. Timothy hay provides the cornerstone of your rabbit's diet.
Timothy Hay For Your Rabbit's Teeth
Your rabbit's constantly growing teeth are one of the top reasons why feeding timothy hay is so important. Here's how timothy hay helps keep those bunny teeth healthy:
Grinding action – As your rabbit chews on the tough timothy stems and leaves, this provides an abrasive, scrubbing motion that grinds down and wears away the tooth enamel. This is vital to keep teeth from overgrowing.
High silica content – The silica content in timothy hay contributes to it being more abrasive than other grass hays. This makes it more effective for wearing down the teeth.
Chewing encouragement – Rabbits love chewing on the tasty, fragrant timothy hay. This chewing action is beneficial for dental health. More chewing = better teeth.
Stemmy structure – The coarse, long-strand stemmy structure of timothy hay provides more friction against the chewing surfaces. The stems get stuck in the teeth creating beneficial wear.
Continuous feeding – Rabbits naturally nibble on timothy hay throughout the entire day. This constant nibbling and chewing provides ideal dental wear.
Timothy hay is the #1 food for providing the constant chewing and grinding that keeps your rabbit's teeth trimmed to the proper length and alignment. Make sure timothy hay is available 24/7 for free choice feeding so those teeth stay healthy!
How Much Timothy Hay Should A Rabbit Eat A Day?
Timothy hay should make up the bulk of a healthy rabbit's diet. But just how much timothy hay should you feed your bunny? Here are some guidelines:
Feed free choice timothy hay – This means keeping timothy available at all times in unlimited quantities. Rabbits will self-regulate how much they need.
Timothy should make up majority of diet – Aim for timothy to account for around 75% or more of total daily calories. For most rabbits this equates to several ounces of hay.
Young rabbits need more – Growing baby bunnies should get 80-90% of calories from timothy and alfalfa hays to support growth and limit calories.
Check hay rack often – Refill empty hay racks at least 1-2 times daily. Strive for continuous access without your rabbit ever being out of hay.
Monitor intake and weight – Observe your rabbit’s hay consumption and weight. Increase or decrease other foods accordingly to maintain healthy weight.
Feed extra during pregnancy/nursing – Does require significantly more hay when pregnant and nursing kits. Make sure ample timothy is always available.
The ideal amount of timothy hay varies by your rabbit’s age, size, activity level and other factors. But you can’t go wrong ensuring unlimited timothy is always available to promote good dental and digestive health.
Can You Get Organic Timothy Hay For Rabbits?
Yes, you can absolutely source high-quality organic timothy hay for your bunnies. Here's what you need to know about organic timothy hay:
What is organic? – Organic timothy hay is grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or GMOs. It uses natural cultivation methods with responsible land management.
Why choose organic? – Organic hay provides a more natural, pure product. This can provide added health benefits for some rabbits, especially those with sensitivities. Many owners prefer to avoid chemicals.
Common brands – Popular organic timothy brands include Small Pet Select, Oxbow, Kaytee, American Pet Diner and Standlee. There are also many local organic hay farms.
Sourcing organic hay – Check local rabbit rescues, feed stores, pet supply stores or order online. Buying in bulk helps reduce costs. Also consider growing your own organic timothy.
Cost comparison – Organic timothy hay does cost more than non-organic, usually around 1.5 to 2 times higher. But the price is reasonable for many pet owners seeking a natural diet.
Feeding recommendations – Feed organic timothy hay in the same free-choice quantities you would feed non-organic. Follow the same feeding guidelines.
While not necessary for all rabbits, feeding organic timothy hay is recommended for providing the healthiest, most natural diet possible. The higher cost is justified for some rabbit owners wishing to avoid any chemicals, herbicides or pesticides.