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  Got Hay, But Won't Eat?

Did you know that your rabbit, guinea pig, chinchilla, degu, prairie dog, desert tortoise, ground squirrel, and yes, your wallaby all require hay in their daily diet? Your gerbil, hamster, rat or mouse should be encouraged to utilize hay for environmental enrichment as well.

The following tips can help to get your pet to eat they hay they need to meet their physiological and/or psychological needs - in other words, what they need and what they enjoy. Transitioning animals onto hay may take time, so be patient!
Minimize treats so the animal must resort to eating the hay that's needed.
Introduce a variety of grass hays at an early age to increase acceptance.
Offer hay in generous amounts, at least half a body size in volume per day.
Offer hay in multiple locations and in a variety of containers to encourage play.
Use hay as bedding or place hay in preferred lounging areas.
Understand species-specific idiosyncrasies. For example: Guinea pigs prefer to eat off the ground; rabbits often eat more hay when it is placed in the litter box.
Do not remove hay daily (unless soiled). Frequent changing of hay encourages the pet to be a selective feeder and eat only the leafy parts and ignore the stem.
Stimulate the senses and make foraging a tactile and enriching experience. For example fill a wading pool with hay to allow burrowing.
Hide pelleted food or healthy treats in the hay to promote foraging behaviors.
Shred carrots into a pile of hay and make a "tossed hay salad."
Lightly mist hay with flavored water or juice
As a last resort, steam hay to increase the moisture content, make it tender and intensify the aroma and flavor

Do you have a unique way that you've used to get your animal to eat hay? Please share your ideas by clicking here.


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What is hay? Why is hay important? Why doesn't all hay look the same?
What is special about Oxbow's Hay? Hay Storage How maturity affects nurtient content of hay
What is Hay?

Hay is a dried, cured, preserved, plant product that is fed to animals. It can be a grass, legume or any other plant that is dried for long term storage. There are hundreds of different varieties of grass with about 10 species that are grown for hay production. Examples of grass hays are: timothy, brome, orchard, oat, bluestem, bermuda, and indian grass. Legumes are a species of plant that convert nitrogen back into the soil. They have a different leaf and root structure than grasses and contain more protein and calcium than grass. Examples of legume hays are alfalfa, clover, pea, and peanut.

The leaves on the grass plant grow first, and then as the plant matures, a stem develops, that will produce a head at the top. This head will bud, bloom, and then go into the seed stage. Farmers will cut hay at the late bud or early bloom stage to maximize yield per acre and still maintain optimum nutritional content.

As hay matures it will decrease in percent protein, and increase in percent fiber. The leaves contain the largest percentage of protein and the highest amount of Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF). This fiber is more digestible to animals than the Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) found in the stalk/stem. However, both types of fiber serve a purpose in the digestive system of an animal.

When the hay is at the right maturity, and the weather is dry and warm, it is cut at ground level and left to dry in the sun. This is what is called sun-cured hay. It is wind rowed, or raked, to turn the hay over to let the hay dry evenly. The hay must dry between 85-90\% before it is baled. Hay that is baled wet will mold and spoil. The grass will regrow and in a couple of months will be mature enough to harvest again.

Grass hay is only harvested a couple times per year depending on the geographic location. In the southern states it may be cut 3-4 times depending on the variety. In the northern states and colder regions of the United States most varieties are only cut once per year. When the hay is cut, dried and stored properly can stay in good conditions for 1+ years.Top

Why is hay important?

Many animals require fiber in their diet to stay healthy. Without adequate amounts of fiber, illnesses such as gut stasis and enteritis can occur. A common indication that an animal is not receiving enough fiber is soft, mushy, stools and/or diarrhea.

Some animals need more fiber than others. Small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hamsters, rats etc. have unique digestive systems. Years ago, when these animals were in the wild, they were sources of prey for many animals. They had to be able to run quickly from the predators. If their stomachs were full of food they could not run as fast, and survival depended on speed. Because of this they have adjusted to eating small meals continually throughout the day. The digestible fiber contained in leafy portions of grass/hay passes quickly through the stomach and intestines and is partially digested by the cecum or hindgut. Other portions of the plant contain a different type of fiber acting as a "scratch factor" that encourages peristaltic action (wave like motion of the intestines). This keeps their stomach empty enabling them to run quickly, thus, escaping their predators

When food is ingested the larger particle sizes pass through the digestive system faster. This faster rate of passage keeps the other food particles moving and prevents blockages such as hairballs. It is very important that your pet eat plenty of grass hay. The digestive system works best when there is a consistent rate of passage.Top

Why doesn't all hay look the same?

Hay is an extremely variable product that is governed by Mother Nature. Hay from the same field will look different from year to year based on maturity of the crop, weather during the growing season, and harvest practices. It can even look different from different sections of the field.

There is no way to guarantee how hay will look or feel from one year to the next. The more mature the hay is the coarser and steamier it will be. But maturity is not the only deciding factor on when to bale hay. Weather plays a big factor in how the hay will look and feel after it is harvested. If there is not enough rain the hay will be shorter, have a narrow leaf, and has more of a tendency to be brittle and shatter in to fines.

A year with more adequate moisture will result in leaves that are wider. Too much rain during harvest time can delay harvest. The ground has to dry to allow the machinery in the fields to cut the hay. A week of sunny, clear weather is needed in order to allow enough time to allow the hay to dry, be baled and stored.

If the humidity is high during the drying process the hay takes longer to dry and can also make the hay turn brown. Ideal hay drying weather would be a couple of days of sunny breezy weather, but Mother Nature doesn't always work that way.

Farmers have to constantly watch the weather and be their own weathermen to decide when are the best conditions to bale hay. Sometimes, due to the weather, there is no choice but to let the hay mature more before it is cut. Growing hay is not an exact science but a gamble and an art . Uncontrollable factors sometimes change all the best laid out plans.Top

What is special about Oxbow's Hay?

This is a frequently asked question. Our hay comes to our customers straight from the family farm. John Miller, the owner of the farm and president of Oxbow Pet Products, has been raising high quality commercial hay for over 20 years.

John takes great pride in the hay he sells, and he should, it is delivered fresh and packed per order. He knows that hay has to be nutritional for the animal, but it also should please the buyer. When you open a bag of Oxbow Hay, your senses will know it! Your eyes will see a bright green coloring and you will smell a pungent fresh, grassy smell.

John, as a farmer of hay, takes hay very seriously. He pays careful attention to the weather and tries to "work hay" when he knows there is going to be 2-3 days of good "hay weather." The first step in the harvesting process is cutting the hay; this is done first thing in the morning, after the rooster crows. The next step is to let the hay dry for a while, usually about 2-3 days. Then the hay is raked, this has to be in the wee hours of morning so that there is still dew on the crop.

This moisture helps to preserve the leaves, since they are the most palatable part of the hay. The last step is the baling this is done at night. The reason our farmers are out at 2 a.m. is to bale when the humidity is just right. Catching the humidity at a perfect time leaves the hay with a soft touch and a aromatic smell. Sometimes they work the night away, putting bales in the shed to insure they don't get we in an early morning shower.

When it is harvested in this particular way the fragrance is trapped inside the bale. So, when you receive a bag or a box of hay it smells like the farm, even after 9 months. Our employees who work in the stuffing room hand sort the hay that goes into the 15 and 40-ounce bags. This insures that your get the best ahy possible. Our fields are healthy and weed free yielding a crop that is easy to create excellent products with.

The 9, 25, 40, and 50 lb. bulk size boxes of hay are packed per order. They do not sit in the warehouse for weeks at a time before they are shipped. When you open a box of our hay it is so fresh that it has often been compared to walking into the hay field.

The biggest benefit that you receive with Oxbow Pet Products is the service. We are a small company. If you ever have a question or concern, you can always talk to someone to get an answer. You won't even have to listen to 10 minutes of automated options, if you call during business hours, you will hear a live person at the other end of the phone when your call is answered.Top

Hay Storage

Hay is a product of nature and requires different storage than other pet foods. The hay that we sell will stay in good condition for 6-9 months, when stored in a cool, dry, dark location, such as a closet. The bulk boxes of hay can be stored in the packaging that it came in. Do not tie the plastic bag just loosely fold it over.

If you live in an area where the summers are hot and humid I would do the following:
For the small 15 or 40 oz bags of hay:

Use a paper grocery sack
Put the plastic bag inside the paper sack and open the plastic bag.
Fold the paper sack once and put a chip clip or clothespin on the top.

If you are storing 25 or 50 LB boxes of hay outside in a garage or shed it is recommended to take the hay out of it's plastic liner and store the hay in the box in which it arrived. Do not store the hay in tightly closed Rubbermaid containers; hay needs air circulation.

Since our alfalfa is so lush and leafy, special attention should be paid to it so that the hay does not get damp and moldy. Storage inside a "climate controlled" house, where the humidity is controlled, should pose no problems for alfalfa. If alfalfa is stored during the summer where high humidity is a problem make sure to check its' condition often. During the summer months, and in areas of high humidity, remove the hay from the plastic bags.

How Maturity Affects Nutrient Content of Hay

The leaves of the grass plant grow first then, as the plant gets more mature, the stalk/stem grows thicker and the leaves proportionately get thinner and longer. More protein is stored in the leaves than the stem. The grass plant always has the same grams of protein, but as the plant gets bigger (and weighs more) the percentage crude protein is decreased. "Book" values of crude protein in Timothy range from 6-12\%. This is dependent on the stage of maturity.

An immature, pre-bud stage Timothy can contain 9-15\% crude protein, regardless of the cutting. (Protein levels over 12\% is rare in the commercial hay industry) The fiber makeup of the plant is also changed with maturity. The leaves of the plant contain the most digestible portion. Fiber is made up of different components: cellulose, hemi-cellulose, and lignin. The lignin portion is the least digestible ADF (acid detergent fiber) and more of it is found in the stem portion. As the plant gets more mature more lignin is deposited in the stem.

What does this mean to the pet owner? Not much. The most important thing is to keep your animal eating plenty grass hay. It is more of a palatability problem for the small animal than a nutritional problem. Small animals (rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, cats etc..) have this unique ability to manipulate their owners to get the food they like the best. Some, bunnies in particularare just more particular about how food (hay) smells, feels, and taste.

You need to encourage your pet to eat as much grass hay as you can get him to eat. All grass hay contains a low level of calcium (.30-.50\%) so feed what he/she will eat and always encourage a variety in the diet. It doesn't matter what cutting or maturity it is as long as they eat a lot of what ever you offer them. A rabbit can and should eat a pile of hay about the same size as their bodies each day. That is why grass hay should always be fed free-choice, meaning always make sure there is some available for them to eat.Top

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29012 Mill Road • Murdock, NE 68407 USA • Phone: (800)249-0366 • Fax: (402)867-3222 • Hours: 8:00am - 4:30pm CST Š 2005




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