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1st cut, 2nd cut, 3rd cut hay…what is the difference?

cuts of hay, what's the difference?

In the last post, we learned all about the different kinds of grasses and legumes used for hay.  Sometimes, though, you'll hear the terms 1st cut, 2nd cut, or 3rd cut...what is this added complication?

"Cut" is usually only mentioned with timothy hay, and the term tells you when it was cut during the season.  No big mystery there, but the time at which hay is cut can make a pretty big difference in how many fuzzy tops there are, how pliable the stem is, and even the levels of protein.  It is starting to sound like we are talking about fine wines, isn't it?  It isn't nearly as hard to become a hay aficionado.  "Ahhhh...a high level of leafiness with a pliable stem.  Very soft, very fragrant.  Feels like 3rd cut" - removes blindfold, applause all around for correct ID.

first cut timothy hay

First cut hay:

This is the first hay out of the field for that year. When cut before the hay blooms, this is a good hay. At this point, the stem will still be relatively thin and flexible, and nutrition values right in line for small animals. This hay usually has a higher fiber content, and a lower protein and fat content. Yes, sure, plants contain fats!  This is the right timothy for animals who may need to lose a bit of weight or really struggle with recurring stasis.  If cut too late, this hay can be tough and crunchy – something we avoid by selecting our hays personally, from trusted farmers.

second cut timothy hay

Second cut hay:

This is the stuff most people feed. Typically, there will be more leaves on the stems, the stems will be thinner, the protein and fat levels are a bit higher, and crude fiber is a bit lower.  The go-to hay for healthy adult animals, this hay smells like summer and will make you think of hay lofts in storybooks.

3rd cutting timithy hay

Third cut hay:

This is the super soft leafy stuff. It looks very pretty, and we are naturally attracted to it. It does, however, have higher levels of proteins and fats, and lower fiber. It is what we call “rich” – nutrient dense, not so much with the fiber. The richness combined with the low fiber can be problematic, and this cut is typically either a “treat” hay, is mixed sparingly with other hay to encourage eating, or is used with elderly or thin animals. If you feed this hay, watch the poo! Make sure your animal’s litter box still looks as it should, that caecotrophs are being produced and re-ingested, and that there are no sore tummies. 

If you’ve got questions about all this, and need some help figuring out which hay is best for your friend, just give us a call or send us an email!  We are more than happy to help.  You can find all three cuts of timothy right in our online shop!

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