A Comprehensive Hay Guide for Guinea Pigs (incl. providers in several countries)

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sport_billy

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This guide has been written by @G&C in 2019.
The forum would like to thank them for all their hard work in researching and producing this very helpful and thorough guide!



Hay is basically grass that has been harvested, dried and then stored and should make up over 80% of a guinea pigs daily diet. They also use it to keep warm, sleep on, forage and play amongst. Hay is high in fibre, without this, food a guinea pig eats cannot pass through the digestive tract and can lead to health problems such as impaction. The chewing of hay also helps guinea pigs to keep their teeth worn down correctly as these grow continuously.

This guide will cover the following topics:
  • The different types of hay available (in the UK, USA and Australia). Including a description of each type and its appearance.
  • The hay comparison chart. Explaining the analytical constituents -crude protein, crude fibre, crude oil/fats, calcium, phosphorous, moisture etc.
  • Assessing the quality of hay.
  • Storage.
  • Suppliers (UK - US - Aus)
  • Further information – hay racks explained. Hay treats.

1 Available types of hay

There are a number of different types available depending on worldwide location. In the UK the 3 most commonly grown are Timothy, Orchard or Meadow Hay.

Timothy Hay
There are different cuts of Timothy Hay, 1st cut contains the seed heads and has less nutritional value and fibre than the 2nd cut which is the soft leafy green hay (Griffin, 2015). 3rd cut is the sweet green leaves grown and harvested later in the season, it is the last harvest of the year and to grow more hay quickly farmers sometimes plant other faster growing types alongside this, which are then mixed in and harvested at the same time.
Pros: Probably the most well known, high quality hay available. Guinea pigs love it!
Cons: Can be expensive when compared to others available. Pure 3rd cut Timothy hay is hard to come by.


Orchard Hay
Also known as Orchard grass, orchard grass hay or cocksfoot hay (USA). This is high in fibre, low in protein and is generally more green to greenish-gold in appearance (Galens Garden, 2014).
Pros: Suitable for adult guinea pigs diet and relatively cheap to buy. Readily available in the UK. Contains the lowest calcium levels compared to all other hays (The Rabbit House, no date). Good for feeding and is soft so can be used as bedding too (Roche, 2018).
Cons: In the USA it is less widely available and can therefore be more expensive.


Meadow Hay
Also known as herbal, alpine, fescue (Australia and USA) or botanical Hay, meadow hay has a better distribution of trace elements and other minerals compared to grass hay (Galens Garden, 2014).
Pros: encourages foraging behaviour as it contains other herbs and wild plants guinea pigs like to eat.
Cons: Contains slightly more calcium than other hays (see hay comparison chart). Depending on the soil it is grown in, the quality can vary and meadow hay can contain other plants and materials of which, some could be harmful.


Ryegrass
Also known as pasture hay in Australia, this is high in protein and has the best balance between calcium and phosphorous out of all the hays available (Galens Garden, 2014).
Pros: widely available in the UK, mainly because it grows well in cold/damp conditions (Perkins, 2018), probably the most common Hay to find in pet shops.
Cons: similar to normal lawn grass, ryegrass needs to be gradually introduced. The result of too much too soon can cause gastric upset and bloat. Also it is not widely available in drought areas (Perkins, 2018).


Wheatgrass, Oat and Barley Hay:
Also known as wheat hay this type of hay comes within the family of oat, wheat and barley hay. However wheatgrass can contain more protein than oat hay. It grows well in drought areas such as the plains of North America and is more yellowish in colour (Galens Garden, 2014).
Pros: Suitable for long term adult guinea pig feeding. Very good for guinea pigs teeth (Roche, 2018).
Cons: Oat Hay has thicker and harder stems so may not be as comfortable to use as bedding (Roche, 2018), could also cause eye injury.


Bermuda Hay
This hay is more readily available in the USA as it is grown in the imperial valley of California. Also known as Bermuda grass, it contains short blades with slightly rough edges and is green-grey in appearance (Perkins, 2013).
Pros: Low Ca:P ratio so can be fed regularly (Perkins, 2013), widely available in USA.
Cons: Not widely available in UK or Australia. May cause eye injury due to its rough edges during foraging.


Alfalfa Hay
Also known as legume, Lucerne (Aus) or clover hay, this is a high fibre hay with high protein, fat and calcium.
If fed to guinea pigs it should be in moderation (Griffin, 2015).
Pros: Suitable for pregnant or nursing sows as the extra calcium and protein is passed onto the pups and can be beneficial for the sow, taking into account the stressors of birth (Griffin, 2015). Also can be fed in moderation to very young or elderly guinea pigs that need to put on weight, for example, those recovering from illness.
Cons: Should not be given regularly or at all to healthy adult guinea pigs as it is too rich and can cause health problems such as obesity and bladder stones or sludge from high calcium content. Not suitable for elderly pigs with bladder problems.


Dried Grass
Also known as readigrass or barn dried hay, this has a rapid drying process, therefore it contains more protein similar to fresh grass (The Rabbit House, no date). It is green to dark green in colour with shorter strands.
Pros: Keeps well during storage and is relatively cheap. Guinea pigs find it very tasty.
Cons: High in protein and lower in fibre than other types of hay. Very rich, therefore needs to be introduced gradually and can be mixed with other hay as a treat (The Rabbit House, no date). Should be given in small amounts.
 
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2 Hay comparison chart

This section provides a chart on the different types of hay with a comparison of the nutritional values. Each type of hay includes general values as these are affected by a number of factors such as the quality of hay that is purchased, the soil it is grown in, how long it has been packaged/stored and wether this has been carried out properly.

Hay121.JPG


Nutritional Values explained

Crude Protein

Guinea pigs are herbivores and therefore do not eat meat, but they still require protein for effective muscle functioning and growth. Crude protein actually refers to the measurement of nitrogen of the hay, as it dries out this increases the fibre content which dilutes the protein. Good quality hay in general should have a higher protein content (above 9% for grass hays and > 15% for alfalfa hay) (Van Suan, 2013).

Crude Fibre
Possibly the most important factor is the amount of fibre the hay contains. Fibre is affected by the levels of protein in the hay and the higher the amount of fibre the lower the quality is, hay should contain < 35% fibre (Van Suan, 2013). This is because fibrous material is generally the more golden straw coloured strands which are more brittle and dry, compared to the more green (and tasty) parts. Piggies tend to prefer the green tasty bits but will eat some of the golden strands as well.

Crude Oils/Fats
Excess fats and oils can be converted into glucose which can upset the gut flora (Guinea Piggles, 2018a). Too much can also cause health issues such as obesity and diabetes. Any guinea pig food such as hay, but also including nuggets, should contain around 1-2% crude oils and fats (Guinea Piggles, 2018a).

Calcium and Phosphorus
Calcium in hay is at such a low level that the risks completely outweigh the benefits when it comes to how much or how often hay should be given to a guinea pig. But it was felt necessary to provide this information for those who care for sick guinea pigs with calcium/bladder issues. From the chart you can see that orchard Hay generally provides the lowest level of calcium compared to the others. However, what we are looking at is the balance between calcium and phosphorous, named the calcium-phosphorous ratio (Ca:P), as the more phosphorous the hay contains the less calcium there will be, these two elements balance each other out. So we are looking for a good balance of calcium and phosphorous in the hay, this should be 1:1.5 (Guinea Piggles, 2018a).

Moisture
This refers to the moisture content within the package of hay once it has been dried and then stored. It’s important to note that dried grass for example, is dried quickly compared to other types of hay, and is done so in such a way that it retains its green colour. The moisture content overall should not be higher than 15% (Van Suan, 2013). This affects the storage and how fresh the hay will remain once it is taken home and opened. As the more moisture that is left in it the quicker it will spoil.

Other
Some hay, particularly the feeding hays, provide added forage such as dandelion or marigold which contain added vitamins and minerals. Some even state the quantity of these per Kg on the packaging. In general, the greener the leaves the more vitamin A and C the hay provides and the more golden the leaves the more vitamin D the hay provides as the golden colour suggests more sun exposure. Guinea pigs daily requirement of vitamin C is around 10-30mg (Guinea Piggles, 2018a), however it is recommended to rely on vegetables for them to get their vitamin C rather than hay.
 
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3 Assessing the quality of hay

Hay quality varies by location where it is grown, the quality of the soil it is grown in, how it is harvested, dried and stored, how old it is and weather conditions. Below are a few simple things to consider when buying your hay:

Look
Can you see some seed heads inter-mingled? Look for unwanted objects such as wire, general waste, litter and weeds. Can you visibly see any mould or dust? Look at the label on the package, does it state ‘dust extracted’ (Guinea Piggles, 2018b)

Smell
This might be a bit more difficult if your in the middle of a pet shop and the hay is packaged up. In general hay should smell like freshly mowed grass, some say it smells sweet like honey. There should be no musty or mouldy smell to hay.

Touch
Quality hay should be pliable not brittle, it should feel soft and have fine stems rather than stiff and coarse.

Colour
Look for a mixture of green and golden stems. Check the hay is not burnt in areas or completely one colour. Hay that is yellow suggests bleaching from the sun and will have lower levels of vitamin A and E (Van Suan, 2013).


4 Hay storage

Hay should be stored in a cool dry place such as a garage, outhouse or shed. It is important that the environment is dry as damp hay can turn mouldy quite quickly which would make guinea pigs very sick. Also it should be out of direct sunlight as this can bleach the hay and reduce its nutritional value. Keeping the hay dust free is beneficial as it keeps it fresher and dust is inhaled by piggy’s which can cause respiratory problems. Many forum members advocate the use of hay bags (insert link) for storing hay, also there is no harm in keeping it wrapped in its plastic packaging in a cool dry place, so long as it doesn’t become damp. Cardboard boxes are also a storage alternative.
 

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5 Suppliers

Below is a list of commercial hay suppliers, these are what forum members have stated provide good quality hay. Members are welcome to add suppliers to this list that they would recommend, such as non-commercial suppliers (farms for example). Many hay varieties are available to order online. Some of the well known popular hay brands are also included.


Suppliers in the UK

B&M Home Bargains, some stores sell there own supplies of meadow and Timothy hay: B&M Search | B&M

Burgess, sell two types of Timothy feeding hay which have added herbs: Guinea Pig feeding hay, treats & litter | Burgess Pet Care

Dust Free Hay, sell a variety of dust extracted hays including American western Timothy hay which is coarser and more expensive than others that they supply as it’s imported. They also sell English Timothy hay which is softer and predominantly Timothy grass, ‘soft hay’ which is their meadow hay and ‘stalky hay’ which is their ryegrass. They also offer bulk buys of these different varieties in one order: Dust Free Hay | Quality Hay & Straw Via Mail Order

Hay Box, sell there own brand of Timothy and meadow hay: Hay Box - Premium Quality Hay Direct from Farm | Perfect for Rabbits

Pets at Home, sell there own brands of Timothy, meadow and orchard hays as well as many of the oxbow and excel hay varieties: Pets At Home | Search Results

Pets At Home | Search Results

Pets At Home | Search Results

Supreme Selective, sell their own brand of Timothy hay: Selective Timothy Hay - Supreme Petfoods

The Hay Experts, sell a wide range of different hay brands including dried grass (readigrass) varieties: The Best Natural Herbs & Grasses for Rabbits | The Hay Experts

The Range, sell there own brand of Timothy and meadow hay: https://www.therange.co.uk/search?q=Timothy hay, https://www.therange.co.uk/search?q=Meadow hay

Timothy Hay UK, sell 2nd cut Timothy hay, a ‘stalky’ variety and oat hay: (2018) 9kg of Timothy Hay | Timothy Hay | Hay Supplies UK

(2017) 7kg of Oat Hay | Timothy Hay | Hay Supplies UK

Wilkinson’s (Wilco) sell their own brand of Timothy and meadow hay: 3 pack Wilko Small Animal Timothy Hay 1kg | Wilko and https://www.wilko.com/en-uk/wilko-meadow-hay-for-small-animal-15kg/p/0070466

Zooplus sell a small variety of meadow hay, dried grass and Timothy hay: Hay & Bedding | Great deals at zooplus!
 

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Suppliers USA

Kaytee, supply varieties of Timothy hay, some have added herbs or fruit, orchard grass and a ‘fortified hay’ is also supplied, this has added vitamin C but is also high in fat. The moisture content for all the varieties is low (12%) so these hays might be dry and not store well: https://www.kaytee.com/all-products/small-animal/hay#facets=Small Animal by Species:Guinea Pig;Small Animal by Product Type:hay

Petco: Supply a variety of different brands of Timothy hay and some orchard grass: https://www.petco.com/shop/en/petco...pageView:grid&minPrice:&maxPrice:&pageSize:24

PetSmart: supply mostly Timothy hay of many different brands including oxbow. They also supply 1st, 2nd and 3rd cut Timothy hay, orchard and meadow hay: Timothy Hay, Orchard Grass & Alfalfa Hay for Pets| PetSmart

Oxbow, supply a variety of different types including Timothy hay, orchard grass, meadow, alfalfa and oat hay: Oxbow Animal Health


Suppliers Australia

Big W, sell Peters Pasture (Ryegrass) Hay: Peters Pasture Hay 2kg

Guinea Pigs Australia, supply the different types of burgess excel feeding hays as well as Australian brand Peters Timothy hay which is mixed with either oat or rye grass: Timothy Hay Everyday basic feeding hays for your guinea pig or rabbit or small animal.

My Pet Warehouse, ship products all over Australia but some are not available in WA. They supply Peters Timothy and Oaten (Oat) Hay, burgess excel, Oxbow and Alfalfa (Lucerne) hay: Small Animal Food & Treats : Food - My Pet Warehouse

Oxbow (Australia), supply their range of hays at various locations around Australia, the link to these can be found here: http://www.oxbowaustralia.com/retail-locations/

Pet Shop Direct, sell a variety of different hay brands including oxbow, burgess excel, Peters, vetafarm and their own brand of oat and Lucerne hay: http://www.petshopdirect.com.au/shop/category/?search_custom_category=&page=1&search_custom_tsv=Hay

Vetafarm, supply their own brands of fescue and alfalfa (Lucerne) Hay: https://vetafarm.com/product-category/small-animal/hay-bales/

Woolworths, sell Peters Pasture (Ryegrass) Hay: https://www.woolworths.com.au/shop/productdetails/247207/peters-rabbit-guinea-pig-pasture-hay
 

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6 Further information (hay racks, treats etc.)

References

Galens garden (2014) Understanding Hay (online). At: https://galensgarden.co.uk/herbivore-nutrition/herbal-hay/understanding-hay/ accessed 6/11/18.
Griffin, J (2015) What is the best Hay for Guinea Pigs? (Online) At: What is the Best Hay for Guinea Pigs? accessed 5/11/18.
Guinea Piggles (2018a) Guinea Pig Nutrition (Online) At: Guinea Pig Nutrition accessed 18/11/18.
Guinea Piggles (2018b) Guinea Pig Hay (Online) At: https://www.guineapiggles.co.uk/guinea-pig-hay Accessed 18/11/18.
Informal USA (2019) Rye Grass Hay (Online) At: Rye grass hay | Beef Magazine Accessed 26/3/19.
Perkins, C (2013) Can guinea pigs eat horse hay? (Online) At: http://www.onlineguineapigcare.com/can-guinea-pigs-eat-horse-hay/ accessed 6/11/18.
Perkins, C (2018) Can guinea pigs eat ryegrass? (Online) At: http://www.onlineguineapigcare.com/category/guinea-pig-foods-2/ accessed 6/11/18.
Roche, N (2018) What type of hay should I give to my guinea pigs? (Online) At: https://animals.mom.me/type-hay-should-give-guinea-pigs-10661.html accessed 6/11/18.
The Rabbit House (No date). Grass and Hay for rabbits. (Online) At:
Van Suan, RJ (2013) Determining forage quality: Understanding feed analysis. (Online) At: https://extension.psu.edu/determining-forage-quality-understanding-feed-analysis Accessed 8/11/18
 
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