Southern Hay Option is Highly Digestible, Costs Peanuts

Perennial peanut hay is getting rave reviews as an extraordinarily delicious forage option for horses. Even better, it doesn't result in explosive energy, gives a glossy coat, is easily digestible, needs no pesticides, and is not outlandishly expensive. Only thing is, most horse owners have never heard of it.

David Pugh, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACT, ACVN, former professor of animal nutrition at both Auburn and Tuskegee universities and now a consultant to Ft. Dodge Animal Health, says peanut hay is an overlooked option--but be sure you're thinking of the right kind of peanut.

"Peanut hay that is the grazing forage can be a very good hay source," Pugh said. "It is a legume and approaches alfalfa with respect to nutritional value. There's also peanut hay that is left over from harvesting peanuts, which is a different animal altogether. In that, all the nutritional value has gone into the peanut."

Peanut hay first was introduced to this country from Brazil in 1936 as part of an experiment at the University of Florida. The studies were completed, but a couple of stray rhizomes sowed themselves into a little patch of land which a researcher, years later, found and created a cultivar called Florigraze. It is a sterile rhizome plant that produces no peanuts. As a perennial, it does not need replanting for 20 or 30 years.

Because it is so long-lived, the root system goes deep into the soil to extract moisture and nutrients. Other than using herbicides during the establishment of the crop, no other pesticides or fertilizers are required and no fungicides are used.

Often termed "Florida's alfalfa," it grows in the warm Gulf States of Florida, southern Georgia and Alabama, a bit of southern Texas, and a corner of South Carolina. It is close to alfalfa in protein content (about 13 to 20%) with similar amino acid and mineral composition, fine stems, and large leaves.

So why don't more farmers grow this crop?

Simply put, it is a long return on investment. Perennial peanut hay takes several years to develop before farmers see any production.

"While perennial peanut hay is a fabulous forage, there is no one place to buy it," said Clay Olson, University of Florida county extension agent and head of the Perennial Peanut Producers Association. "It has only penetrated about one percent of the market, even here in Florida."

Perhaps because perennial peanut hay is only grown in the deep south, not a lot of horse owners are familiar with it.

"The gold standard always has been alfalfa, so people work with what they are familiar with," Pugh said. "More alfalfa is grown in Midwestern and Northern states where there are more alkaline conditions. It's foreign to horse owners."

According to Olson, current prices for peanut hay range from $175 a ton to $320 a ton for the finest quality.

Learn more about perennial peanut hay.

About the Author

Diana Hunt

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