Triticale Hay for Your Horse

Harvesting a field of triticale
Harvesting a field of triticale Bestforage

Hays commonly fed to horses include various pure grass hays, mixed grass hays, and legume hays such as alfalfa, and clover. When these hays are not available, horse owners may choose less traditional hay types such as grain hays (oat, wheat barley).

A type of hay receiving more interest over the past few years is Triticale which is a hybrid of wheat and rye and is little more than a century old.

The main goal in creating triticale was to produce a grain with many of the advantages of wheat for product development with the ability of rye to thrive in adverse conditions. Triticale (trit-ih-KAY-lee) is a crop species resulting from a plant breeder's cross between wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale).

Simply put researchers combined wheat and rye for a new variety of a plant with double the growth. Triticale combines the nutritional value of the wheat and the rapid growth, heat tolerance and hardiness of rye. It was originally discovered back in the late 1800s, although it wasn’t until the 1960s that it was available commercially.

Limited studies have shown that the cultivars of triticale that are closest to rye such as Abacus and Madonna, are well digested by horses, but cultivars closely related to wheat including Tahara are not well digested in the small intestine of the horse. Fall, winter, and spring varieties of triticale have been developed, as well as specific varieties that target different uses as hay and/or grain.

With Triticale, the maturity of the plant at harvest is important when feeding the hay to horses. Triticale may be fall seeded and fall grazed, or overwintered and grazed in the spring. Triticale may also be seeded in the spring and used in the year of seeding as pasture or cut and used as hay. Winter triticale can provide horse owners in some areas with a valuable alternative to perennial forages and can be used to extend the traditional grazing season into the early spring and late fall.

Although great hopes were entertained for triticale, it has been slow to find widespread commercial acceptance or demand. However, as it requires few pesticides, reduces soil erosion, and can capture excess soil nitrogen, triticale is especially suited to organic farming and may for that reason be on its way to a shining future.

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, 464 farms in over 30 states raised triticale. Total production that year was 2.5 million bushels with Washington, Texas, California and Kansas listed as the top producing states and the majority was used as forage and pasture. But in the last decade, new champions of triticale are showing up all over the U.S.

Ted Rogers is the business manager over triticale for Northern Seed Company out of Montana, and he says triticale is really making a name for itself as a double crop – the placeholder between cash crops that is becoming a very valuable crop on its own.

“Growers like it for its shorter harvest that opens up choices for a longer-day corn,” Rogers says. “They plant it during the fall, and it starts growing and then slows during winter. They let it grow in the spring to the flag leaf stage, then chop it and put it in the silo and then they plant their corn.”

Triticale hay can be managed similarly to other hay sources, although dried-out, late-harvested hay can cause palatability issues for horses. Triticale hay can have sharp awns (brittle, needle-like appendages) if cut and baled when allowed to grow to full maturity. These sharp awns embed in the horse's mouth creating ulcerations. Horse owners should inspect Triticale hay bales closely for these sharp awns, and should not feed hay containing sharp awns to horses.

Ripe triticale with sharp needle-like appendages known as awns.

Ripe triticale with sharp needle-like appendages known as awns

Matured triticale hay can have sharp awns (brittle, needle-like appendages) that can embed in the horse's mouth creating ulcerations.
© 2016 by pxhere

These problems can be limited by using the semi-awnless winter variety Bobcat. Varieties with rough awns should be avoided for hay or cut early before awns become hard and thick.

Triticale has proven to have higher protein content than both of its parents rye and wheat and can be fed out in the field as a green forage crop, chopped and used as silage or baled and fed as dry hay.

When seeded in the spring, winter triticale remains vegetative throughout the spring, summer and fall. There is no heading because seedlings do not receive the cold treatment, or vernalization, that would normally occur in the fall.

Vernalization is required for heads to form the following summer. (Vernalization is a physiological change in the seedling, usually received in the fall when seedling temperatures that are below 5-7°C and low light intensity serve as triggers for the plants to develop heads the following year.)

Mixing spring-planted winter triticale with tall varieties of oats or barley has been shown to be an effective source for spring and summer grazing as well as for silage. The barley and oat:

  • Are very vigorous in the early growth stages.
  • Dominate the canopy in the early stages of growth.
  • Provide excellent forage quality.

After the earlier season grazing or silage harvest, the winter triticale becomes more dominant in the mixture. It has the potential to provide vigorous re-growth and high quality forage in late summer and fall. This is at the same time as the re-growth potential for spring cereals and perennials decreases.

Triticale is an economical crop to grow and the varieties that produce good forage for horses can be harvested with the same implements that are used for other types of hay.

Triticale as grain for horse feed

Field of ripe triticale to be used as grain for horses.

Field of ripe triticale to be used as grain for horses

As when feeding other cereals to horses, triticale should be given as a rolled or flaked product and not as a finely ground feed.
© 2018 by Stevanovicigor

Australian sources agree that processed triticale grain can be used as a substitute for more commonly used cereal grains in horse diets. They provide the following recommendations for triticale grain fed to horses:

  • Limit the cereal grain to not more than 500g per 100kg body weight per meal, or not more than 4g of starch per kg body weight per meal.
  • Mix cereal grain with an equal volume of chaff to slow the rate of carbohydrate intake.
  • Soak, coarse crush, steam flake, or pellet the grain to improve intake.

Rolled or flaked processed triticale can be used as the sole cereal grain in diets for horses. Due to its high starch digestibility, triticale may even be superior to other grains for horse diets.

When using triticale as a horse feed:

  • Mix triticale grain in equal volume with chaff to slow the rate of carbohydrate intake. This helps avoid over-energetic behavior, diarrhea and other problems.
  • Process triticale grain to improve its intake rate.
  • Scale the amount of cereal grain content in each meal to the animal body weight to help avoid other problems.

For horse feed, the preferred cereal grains are those that have starch that is more digestible in the small intestine. Excess starch and sugars that are not digested in the small intestine of the horse flow into the large intestine, where a build-up of excess D-lactic acid can occur. This, in turn, starts physical and metabolic changes in the horse resulting in “hyper” or over-energetic behavior, diarrhea, laminitis and founder (Kohnke et al, 1999).

Triticale appears to have the high starch digestibility in the small intestine of horses that suit its use as a horse feed (Rowe et al, 2001). As when feeding other cereals to horses, triticale should be given as a rolled product and not as a finely ground feed.

Source of information: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

Author picture

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere.