Alfalfa vs Timothy Hay for Rabbits
Hay is the most important part of your pet rabbits’ diet and should always be fed in unlimited quantities. But which hay is best and why? Is there a difference between 1st, 2nd and 3rd cut Timothy hay? How long can you keep hay, does it go bad? Why is alfalfa so bad for adult rabbits?
- 1 The nutritional difference between Alfalfa and Timothy hay for rabbits
- 2 Alfalfa hay is not a “treat” for adult rabbits
- 3 1st, 2nd and 3rd cut Timothy hay
- 4 Other hay options
- 5 How long can you keep Alfalfa and Timothy hay?
- 6 How to store Alfalfa and Timothy Hay
- 7 Few more points on Alfalfa vs Timothy
- 8 About the Author
The nutritional difference between Alfalfa and Timothy hay for rabbits
Protein is an important nutrient for adult rabbits but more so for young rabbits. Baby rabbits grow at an alarming rate and should be eating an adult diet by 4 to 5 months old depending on the breed. Protein is important for muscle development in baby rabbits and therefore Alfalfa hay is an excellent choice for them.
The higher fat content of Alfalfa vs Timothy hay helps provide more energy for baby rabbits to grow rapidly. Adult rabbits require little fat and should be fed Timothy hay to prevent obesity and its related health problems.
Fiber is critical for both baby rabbits as well as adult rabbits. If a rabbit does not eat enough fiber it is possible, they may suffer from GI Stasis. This is when a rabbit’s digestive tract slows down and then stops functioning. This is a deadly condition that can kill a rabbit a rabbit very quickly. If your rabbit has not pooped for 12 to 24 hours, they need to see a qualified veterinarian that specializes in rabbits.
Alfalfa and Timothy hay have almost the same amount of fiber.
The higher calcium content of Alfalfa hay helps baby rabbits develop and grow strong bones. Adult rabbits do require some calcium but not nearly as much as young rabbits. If an adult rabbit consumes an excess of calcium it can have a negative impact on their kidneys and bladder.
There are other differences between the two hays, but they are not significant enough to mention in detail. These include the following:
- Neutral Detergent Fiber
Alfalfa hay is not a “treat” for adult rabbits
If you feed an adult rabbit Alfalfa hay it will happily eat every little bit of it with joy and then beg for more. Doing this on an occasion it is not a health concern, but it can cause your rabbit to not want to eat Timothy hay. Therefore, I do not feed out pet rabbit, Mr. Bunny Alfalfa hay ever.
A large percentage of pet rabbits do not like to eat hay or are considered picky eaters. Rather than feeding them Alfalfa, which is a dangerous choice, it is best to try other hays like 3rd cut Timothy, Orchard grass or Oat hay. There are many great types of hay that are good for your rabbit.
1st, 2nd and 3rd cut Timothy hay
Timothy is cut or mowed three times in a year. Each cut produces a somewhat different hay regarding nutritional make up.
- 1st Cut – This is the first hay cut for the year and has the lowest amount of fat, lots of fiber and lower in protein. This is not the best choice for an active rabbit and should only be used if your rabbit is obese.
- 2nd cut – Most veterinarians and pet rabbit owners recommend the 2nd cut. This is the standard hay that has the right amounts of fat, fiber and protein for adult rabbits.
- 3rd cut – This cut of hay has less fiber, more fat and more protein. If you have a rabbit that doesn’t like to eat hay, then this cut may be answer to your problem. Yes, it is not as good as the second cut, but some hay is way better than no hay.
The thing to keep in mind is that it is more important that your rabbits eats hay rather than what cut it is. The truth of the matter is that there is not a huge difference between the three cuts. If your rabbit will not eat 2nd cut, then try 3rd cut Timothy. If that doesn’t work, you may want to try a different option like Orchard grass hay or Oat hay.
Other hay options
Some rabbits, bunnies, buns, fur balls whatever you want to call them will turn their nose up at timothy hay. This may happen because they have been on Alfalfa for to long or simply because they just don’t like timothy.
The good news is that there are several other options beside Timothy. Let’s look at what those options are.
Orchard Grass Hay
Softer and similar in nutrients as 2nd cut Timothy hay Orchard grass a top pick for any bunny that is a picky eater. Orchard grass has the same amount of fiber as Timothy, a little less calcium and about the same protein.
Bottom line is your rabbit eats more orchard grass than Timothy then stick with it since it is nutritionally safe for adult rabbits.
This is another option if Timothy or Orchard grass don’t work for you or your rabbit. Oat hay has about 1-2% less fiber than other options but is still safe to feed your rabbit daily. The amount of protein and calcium are in line with Timothy and Orchard grass.
The fiber content of Meadow Hay falls in line with Timothy and Orchard grass but is 3-5% lower in protein than any other hay. The calcium content falls in line with safety standards, but I would not feed this to my bun unless I had no choice. I am not saying that it is a terrible hay, but the other options are somewhat better.
How long can you keep Alfalfa and Timothy hay?
A long time LOL. Most pet rabbit owners will say a year, I say two years. The truth of the matter is that hay keeps for a long time IF stored under optimal conditions.
Fresh hay is somewhat green, the older it gets the browner it gets and yes it does loose some nutrition as it ages. Older hay does not loose fiber though which is the critical part of the hay for your bunny.
How to store Alfalfa and Timothy Hay
There are two key principals to storing hay, air circulation and a dry environment. The best way to store hay in your home is in a cardboard box with a few small holes punched in it. I suggest buying hay that comes in a cardboard box rather than a plastic bag. Hey that is wrapped in plastic for a long period of time can become moldy or stale.
Good hay should have little dust, somewhat of a sweet smell and be dry. Never feed your rabbit any type of hay that is moldy or off smelling.
Few more points on Alfalfa vs Timothy
Alfalfa vs Timothy Hay– The winner is… There is no winner. Why? Because Alfalfa and Timothy are not and should not be used interchangeably.
Alfalfa should only ever be fed to young rabbits less than five months old or when directed by a qualified veterinarian that specializes in rabbits. The high amounts of calcium, fat and protein can wreak havoc on an adult rabbit’s health in the long term.
I am an advocate for feeding young rabbits a mix of Alfalfa and Timothy or Orchard, so they are used to not eating “the good stuff” all the time. I believe this strategy promotes a better appetite for health grasses/hays as an adult.
Timothy is an excellent hay if your rabbit eats enough of it daily. If they don’t then I suggest trying out the other options that were disused in this article like Orchard grass, Oat or Meadow hay.
About the Author
My name is Vanessa and I love my buns. My current house rabbit is Mr. Bunny, he is a black and white Dutch that just turned 9 years old.
I believe that rabbits are a magnificent animal that make great pets for SOME people. My mission is to share what I have learned about rabbits over the past 20 years to improve the relationship between our pets and us. Please contact me or comment if you have any questions or comments.