Information: Hay - What's the fuss?
The ideal rabbit diet should be 80% hay and guinea pig diet should be 70% hay. There is a lot of discussion about hay; what types of hay, and how much to feed. The following information aims to explain hay, what is best for your pet and why.

Hay is the most important part of your rabbit's & guinea pig's diet. Why?

Hay is a vital part of your pet's diet for various reasons. It is high in fibre, which helps to keep their digestive system in excellent condition. Hay also encourages your bunny to drink more water. This makes them urinate more frequently and helps protect them from the formation of bladder sludge and kidney stones. Herbivores teeth keep growing their whole life. The chewing action required to eat hay helps to keep their teeth growing normally. Topping up their supplies regularly can keep your pets happy!

Types of hay:

In Australia, the most common types of hay available are:
Straw (is also commonly found though not strictly a hay).
The ideal diet for a healthy happy rabbit or piggie should contain approximately 0.4% calcium. Calcium is used to make their teeth which grow constantly and to keep their bones strong.

Different types of hay have different amounts of calcium and this can vary depending on the time of year, location of the hay grown and even each bale produced! 

We recommend your main hay for a healthy pet to be Oaten hay. Oaten hay is a cereal hay, and the same plant that we harvest oat grain from. Oaten hay is generally harvested before the oat grain develops, or before it is fully developed. While oaten hay has a fairly low calcium content, it can have a higher sugar content than other hays. This can make Oaten hay more palatable and encourage rabbits to eat more hay, but it can also contribute to weight gain and uneaten caecotrophs in rabbits that may be more sensitive to dietary carbohydrates.

The majority of Timothy hay in Australia is imported from the US or UK as it is not a common hay grown in Australia. However, small amounts are starting to be grown in cooler, wetter areas of Australia like Victoria and South Australia, and so locally grown Timothy hay will hopefully become more common. Timothy hay is a grass hay, and the Timothy hay grass is not harvested for grain like Oaten, Wheaten, or other cereal hays. Timothy hay, while lower in sugar and potentially less palatable than Oaten hay, has a greater leaf to stem ratio and is a softer textured hay, which some pets prefer. 

Timothy hay is suitable to feed as a main hay source, or can be fed in combination with Oaten and other grass hays. 

Grass and meadow hays are usually a combination of one or more species of non-cereal grasses. Grass hays can be sown as a single monoculture, like Timothy or Rhodes hay, or can be sown as a mix including Ryegrass, Clover, Brome, and Kangaroo grass. These hays can differ greatly in nutritional content depending on the species, location, stage of growth at cut, and storage conditions, and some grass or meadow hays can be as high in sugar content as oaten hay, especially mixes containing Annual Ryegrass. Clover-containing mixes can also be higher in protein. Grass and Meadow hays often come in much thinner strands than oaten hay, and are generally an even mix of leaf and stem. 

Grass and meadow hays are suitable to feed as a main hay source, but it can be difficult to maintain a consistent nutritional content when new bales are started. Grass and meadow hays that have been nutritionally analysed may be available from some sources.

Straw is what is left over after harvesting hay and is often sold as 'bedding' for pets and livestock. Straw is not a food and has very little nutritional value for our pets.

Lucerne or alfalfa hay is a leguminous hay that has higher protein and calcium content than oaten, grass, Timothy, or meadow hays. While lucerne hay often gets a bad reputation due to the increased calcium content, it is suitable to feed as a treat hay 2-3 times a week in small amounts, and can be useful to help underweight or rapidly growing pets gain weight. Because of the increased protein content, lucerne hay is often very palatable and enticing for rabbits to eat, and it can also be useful to encourage rabbits that are hesitant to eat hay, or have chronic medical conditions that reduce their ability to eat hay. Lucerne hay can also be used in food puzzle toys to provide environmental enrichment.

As lucerne hay is not recommended to feed as a main hay source, discuss this option with your vet if you feel that your pet may benefit from this.  

Calcium content and uses:

Frequently asked questions:

What type of hay should I feed my pet?

If your pet is normal weight, has good teeth, and is otherwise healthy, then timothy, oaten, or orchard/grass hays are an obvious choice.  Many pets prefer a mixture of these hays, if you can provide it, however, the most simple option is for a diet of mainly oaten hay.
Lucerne hay can be used for lactating does, or pet needing extra calcium or to put on some weight – if this is the case, contact your vet for more specific advice.

What should I look for when buying hay?

Hay should look and smell great! Hay that is damp, dusty, or mouldy should be avoided.

How much hay should you feed your pet?

Ideally, your pet should eat a pile of hay a day roughly the size of their own body. You should provide fresh new hay every day – even if they haven’t finished all of yesterdays. Your pet has such a great sense of taste that they can tell the difference between hay from the same field that has been harvested late in the day vs first thing in the morning (the later hay has a higher sugar content, which bunnies prefer!). Presenting your pet's hay in their litter tray is a great way to contain some mess and encourage hay intake. Alternatively, a 'hay rack' above the litter tray can work well. 

I’ve heard Lucerne hay is bad for rabbits…?

As you can see from the above table, it has a much higher average calcium content than other hays and in some rabbits, this can lead to increased calcium excretion in urine (also know as sludgy urine). Different rabbits have different requirements for calcium – not all rabbits are the same. So it’s not “bad” for rabbits, but it isn't ideal for everyone. If you are not sure discuss this with your vet.

What can I do if pet does not like hay?

Some pets don’t like hay as much as their pellets and veggies and treats, so they will eat everything else before doing so. In this case, give them the hay first, and reduce the amounts of other foods (but if your rabbit stops eating contact your vet!).
Some pets stop or reduce the amount of hay they eat as an early sign of dental disease – if your pet used to love hay but now doesn’t – get your vet to check them over. Providing a mix of different hay types, spraying hay with apple juice, or hiding their pellets/treats in the hay often increases a pet's consumption! 

​What is chaff?

Chaff is short cut hay. Chaff is also an option for your pet which is cut up hay and this can be added into a bowl of 'pellets or mixes' to encourage hay intake and be a good transitional option! 

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