I am Aspen Johnson, and I am currently studying at Oregon State University for a bachelor’s degree in agriculture sciences with a minor in animal sciences. I graduated high school in 2013 with an idea of studying agriculture. I started my college career at Linn-Benton Community College, explored Western Oregon University briefly, and then transferred to Oregon State University where I currently attend. My plan is to continue studying at OSU for a Master’s in Agriculture Education. I hope to teach at the high school level in north eastern Oregon (Pendleton area) but will also consider jobs in Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana. In my free time, I like to ride horses, read and spend time outdoors. I also work part time at The Farm Store in Veneta. I submitted the following as a technical feature paper for my OSU course titled “Communicating Ag to the Public”.
Teff grass is a crop and a pelleted horse feed. CHS, Inc. has researched teff grass for use as a pelleted feed and found it low in simple carbohydrates and low in calories for horses with metabolic issues like Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), laminitis, or other metabolic disease. Their horse feed brand, Equis Feed, has produced the pellet for retail sale around the region.
Teff Grass as a Crop
Teff grass is a fast-growing annual summer crop. It can be planted in the spring and can be harvested 45 to 55 days after planting. Two harvests are most common, but there is the possibly to get three if the summer is long enough. A harvest is when the grass is grown and cut into hay. Once that grass is cut it is laid out to dry for two or three days and baled. The weather is a big deciding factor on when to cut grass.
Teff grass is a good option for use as a cover crop, green manure, or a summer crop. Cover crops are typically clovers and grasses that help keep soil healthy while there is no other economically viable crop growing. The clovers and grasses can also easily be turned into green manure. The grass is fast growing making it an excellent summer crop that a farmer can get a return on. Green manure is the recycling of a currently growing crop back into the soil. The crop is mixed into the soil by a plow and microorganisms biodegrade the crop into organic matter. Organic matter adds value to the soil in forms of increased water retention and important nutrients need for healthy growth are made available to the plant. The more organic matter that is in a soil, the healthier the soil is. Teff grass is good for farming systems that have a crop that is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. The farmer could plant teff grass during the summer, get two harvests, and then plow the teff grass back into the soil for use as a green manure.
Teff Grass for Horses
Teff grass tends to be low in simple carbohydrates and lower in calories per pound making it appropriate for horses that are prone to EMS, laminitis, or obesity. These are common problems in horses and feed must be carefully watched to reduce the symptoms. Feeds that cause these problems are normally high in simple carbohydrates like fresh spring grass and most seed grains fed to horses. Equis Teff Natural is a complete feed. Complete feeds have all the vitamins and minerals a horse does not receive by consuming forage products like valley grass hay. Horses must be slowly introduced to new feeds to not disturb the microbacteria in the hind gut.
Unlike cattle and other livestock species, horses are hindgut fermenters. Most livestock species, like cattle and sheep, are ruminants. Ruminants have a four-compartment stomach with a large rumen that acts as a fermentation vat. These animals can easily convert feed into nutrients and do most of this before the small intestine. Horses do not have a rumen. Instead, they do most of their digestion behind the small intestine and are called a “hind gut fermenter.”
Starting at the mouth, horses have upper and lower incisors best for cutting grass, the molars then break the grass down even further and the feed is swallowed. Horses have a one-way esophagus and any feed that is swallowed must go through the stomach to get out. The stomach of a horse is small and functions similar to the human stomach. After gastric acid is added the feed moves to the small intestine where more digestive enzymes are added. By now, the feed is mainly carbohydrates (fiber) and ends up in the large cecum of a horse. The cecum has a healthy microorganism colony and this colony ferments the carbohydrates into useable energy for the horse. Any waste and leftover product is excreted. This process takes 24 to 48 hours from start to finish.
The microorganisms in the hindgut (large intestine and cecum) are very specific to what they digest and quick feed changes can disturb these microorganisms. This can happen when adding a lot of concentrate (grain) to a diet without properly adjusting for this sudden increase and when the horse is allowed to eat a carbohydrate rich diet like fresh green spring grass. From upsetting the balance of microorganisms, issues like colic and laminitis can occur.
Horse Body Condition Score
When a horse is obese, it is thought of as an “easy-keeper.” These horses are easy to put weight on and they keep the weight. A system known as the Body Conditioning Score (BCS) comes into play here. BCS for horses is a one to nine scale with one be extremely emaciated and nine being extremely obese. Horse owners want their horses to be around five or six. Most horses that are considered obese have a body conditioning score above six.
There are six places to check on a horse to determine the amount of body fat a horse has. These locations are along the neck, along the withers, the crease down the horse’s back, the area around the tailhead, ribs and behind the shoulder. These are areas where fat is collected. When there is no fat in these areas, a BCS of one, the horse is considered extremely emaciated; the ribs can be felt, the spine can be seen, and the muscle surrounding the tailhead is depressed it the horse. When there is an excess of fat in these areas, a BCS of nine, the horse is considered extremely obese; the ribs cannot be felt, the neck has a fat crest under the mane, and there is bulging fat around the tailhead. A good BCS is right in the middle at five or six.
Teff Grass as a Pellet
Natalie Shaw is an Equine Nutrition Specialist for CHS Nutrition who produces Equis Feed. She found it difficult that horse owners were wanting a low carbohydrate, low calorie feed for these horses that have metabolic issues and there were no feeds available. Shaw researched local valley grass hays and found they were lower in calories but varied greatly in carbohydrates. She researches teff hay and started working with the CHS nutrition team to develop a complete pelleted feed using the new hay as a base.
Shaw trialed the pellets at Washington State University Veterinary College and also states that the Teff Natural pellets have no added molasses or fat. After extensive testing, CHS Nutrition guarantees that the pellets had a Non-Structural Carbohydrate (NSC) value of under 12 percent.
Shaw stated that teff pellets can be feed as a standalone product or as a supplement to hay. The pellet is a complete feed that has all the vitamins and minerals a horse needs. Since the pellet is a grass, it can be considered a forage product as well and when fed as directed the horse does not need any extra forage. If this is not necessary Shaw stated that it can also be fed at five-pounds a day with supplemented forage.
Teff Pellets for Retail Sale
Travis Soverns, owner and general manager of The Farm Store in Veneta, Ore., stated that he has recently started carrying the Teff Natural Pellets in December of 2016 and first learned about the product from the local Equis Feed representative.
Soverns stated that he started carrying the product because “special needs horses require special needs feed.” The product also fits into a niche market where there are very little feed options for horses with metabolic issues. “One lady from Florence ordered a ton [40 bags] of it.
Haley Zimmerman manages Rain Horse Training in Elmira, Ore., where she gives lessons to anyone wanting to learn how to ride horses and trains her own horses to sell. She was searching for a low carbohydrate and low calorie feed for a client when she came across an advertisement for Teff Natural Pellets. “Luckily, the Farm Store is just a few miles up the road and carries the product so I was able to refer my client to them to buy it,” stated Zimmerman.
Zimmerman started researching more about it and found that it is specifically engineered for diseased and overweight horses. “It is low carb and low calorie, which sets it apart from other feeds.” She stated that it was a warm season grass and it had lower calories than most other grasses in the pacific northwest.
Zimmerman has been recommending the product to other horse people in the community, especially the owners that have horses with allergies, obesity, or carbohydrate sensitivities. “This feed has many benefits, including low cost for how new it is, and it is readily available at many local feed stores in the Eugene area.”
Equis Teff Natural is a relatively new product from Equis Feed. Teff grass is a summer crop that can be planted in late spring and harvested mid-summer and again early fall. The crop can then be turned into green manure to add nutrients back to the soil before planting a different crop.
Since teff grass is low in carbohydrates and calories, it is a safer feed for horses prone to EMS, laminitis, and obesity. Carbohydrates can cause a lot of issues, mainly by being hard to break down during digestion for these horses. Non-structural carbohydrates are easier to digest since enzymes do most of the work in the foregut. Teff pellets from Equis feed guarantees lower than 11 percent NSC value.
These pellets are good to feed to horses with metabolic issues like EMS and laminitis. This can be fed with or without a forage supplement, depending on the pounds fed a day.
Aspen Johnson, OSU Student of Agriculture