Alfalfa, which is a herbaceous perennial legume, originated near Iran. It has a high mineral content and contains at least 10 different vitamins. Alfalfa grown in our area, if cut when all things are ideal, can run as high as 22% protein in the pre-bloom state to as low as 11% at the end of bloom.
Timothy grass, a perennial bunchgrass, is a cool-season forage grass. It is slow growing and has a low yield in the field. It has been our experience that 1st and 2nd cutting Timothy grass hay works well for horses with a delicate digestive system, skin problems, issues with diarrhea and weight issues. Timothy can, however, go as high as 18% protein just before bloom (we've never had one test this high from our growing area) and can fall as low as 4-6% protein in the late bloom state.
Orchardgrass (also known as "cocksfoot" in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia) is native to Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia, but has been grown in North America for more than 200 years. It is a cool season grass that grows in clumps or tufts and has a fibrous root system. It starts growth early in spring, develops rapidly, and flowers during late May or early June, depending upon length of days and the temperature. Orchardgrass is more heat and drought tolerant than Timothy grass. Orchardgrass grows rapidly at cool temperatures, is very productive in early spring and recovers quickly after cutting.
Orchardgrass, in our experience, usually runs a bit higher on the protein and fat scale than Timothy. Researchers say it can run as high as 18.4% protein in early vegetative state, down to 8.4% in late bloom, but typically we find it runs approximately 12-14% grown in our area of Washington State.
Mix hay is a mixture of alfalfa and some type of grass, typically Orchardgrass. The percentages can vary from as little as 5% alfalfa vs. 95% grass to the complete opposite of 95% alfalfa vs. 5% grass, all dependent upon the percentages of the seed mixture that is ordered from the seed company and planted by the farmer. In some cases, a farmer will go into a field and overplant in an existing stand of either a legume or grass with the opposing seed and achieve somewhat of a mix. The downside of this method is that there is less consistency in percentage of legume vs. grass when comparing the bales, as wide fluctuations can occur over the course of the field. Our most popular mixes are a 30% Alfalfa/70% Orchardgrass and Brome Grass Mix and a 40% Alfalfa/60% Orchardgrass and Brome Grass Mix.