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Exotic pets, rodents and birds

Why Feed Hay to our Cavies?


There are as many types of hay as there are types of bedding, and some will be better for particular uses. Cavies in South America are raised on alfalfa and many other grasses. For a animal who does not get the amount of exercise that a wild animal would, a sedentary caged animal shouldn’t have so many calories, and a good grass or timothy hay would be better.

Alfalfa is a legume, much like lentils and peanuts. It is a green that has many little leaves, and when dried, these leaves fall off, creating ‘fines.’ It is a very rich feed, with higher levels of proteins and calcium than other hays. It also has higher amounts of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, selenium, iron and zinc than the other hays. Because of the higher trace minerals, care should be taken to avoid this hay if you have an animal predisposed to bladder or kidney stones. Composition: Crude Protein, min 16.0%, Crude Fat, min 1.5%, Crude Fiber max 32.0%, Moisture, max 15.0%.

Timothy hay is usually a blend of grasses and timothy. Timothy is a long stranded grass with a fuzzy seed head that looks a lot like a mini cat-tail from a pond. It is a high fiber, low in protein, and low in calcium source of nutrients. It can be had in two forms: first cutting and second cutting. First cutting you will see has many more stems and seed heads. It is best if you can find this, as it’s higher in fiber and lower protein than the second cutting, which is higher leaf to stem ratios, lower in fiber and higher in protein, although it tends to smell ‘fresher,’ since there are more leaves in the mix. Second cutting timothy is the BEST for all around free-choice feeding! Compostion: Crude Protein, min 7%, Crude Fat Min 1.5%, Crude Fiber Max 32%, and Moisture, Max 15%.

Orchard Grass hay is more stemmy, almost all blades. It looks very similar to timothy, with a different shape to the seed head. It’s lower in protein yet higher in fiber than alfalfa hay, and again, a good rich smelling hay when you open the bag. It can be a dark fresh green colour (mostly fescue and crabgrass) to a dark blue green (Kentucky bluegrass), very rough and fibrous to the touch. According to Oxbow, it is also known as ‘cocksfoot’ in Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Both the pigs and I LOVE the smell of a good grass hay. Composition: Crude protein 7.5% min, Crude Fat 1.5% min, Crude Fiber max 32% and Moisture max 10%.

Why should you feed hay?
The digestive system of the guinea pig is much like that of a horse, a constant grazer. They rely upon a diet high in fiber, which for us is a dietary filler, it makes you feel full, while giving few calories. The cavy is a natural hindgut fermenting vegetarian, which means in the long run, that they are constant grazers (like horses) but they lack the compartmentalized stomach of the cow. They require a constant input of fiber to keep this intestinal system running smoothly. The bacteria that line the intestine need a constant source of food to prevent die off. This tough dried grass gives a great workout for those back molars, which are so prone to overgrowth in cavies. It prevents longhaired guinea pigs from chewing on their coats to relieve boredom and the need to chew on something. Hay also provides much more regularity to bowel movements in your cavies, same as us, and this certainly helps cut down on ‘boar sac impaction,’ which is something that benefits ALL of us! Can we emphasize that they need that fiber? Not enough! :)

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