Timothy hay is dried versions of timothy grass (P. Pratense), which is thought to have originated on the European continent. Early colonists to the New World brought grass seeds accidentally, inspiring significant wild growth of the grass in the US too. It was noted by the early 18th century that the grass was appreciated by grazing animals.
Although Timothy Hansen is credited with the idea of actually cultivating the grass for hay, he didn’t actually name the hay after himself. Records suggest that Ben Franklin was actually responsible for naming the hay, and praised its hardiness after planting several hundred acres of it in Vermont.
Many people who raise horses and cattle find timothy hay to be ideal as part of animal feed. It may be mixed with other ingredients, especially alfalfa and red clover. Certain domestic animals like rabbits and guinea pigs may also enjoy it as well. It is especially noted for a relatively low protein content, low moisture (which can help keep the dried grass from rotting), and high fiber content. Many animal care experts recommend it due to its seeming ease on various animals’ digestive systems and its promotion of bowel regularity.
Another reason this type of hay may be preferable to other forms, especially legume based forms of hay like alfalfa, is because of its low calcium content. Certain animals, especially rabbits, may be prone to bladder stones and crystallization of the urine, which can lead to early death or discomfort. Vets often recommend timothy to avoid these problems.
Early versions of timothy did best on the East Coast, but there are now variants that can be grown across the US, which include “western” timothy hay. For allergy sufferers, this isn’t necessarily terrific news. Many find they are strongly allergic to the pollen of timothy grass and don’t particularly appreciate its cultivation and growth.
This doesn’t mean that timothy hay doesn’t have practical and medicinal qualities. While it may make allergy sufferers sniffle and sneeze, it does prove to be a healthy part of feed for many grazing animals. Additionally, a medicine called Grazax® is made up of extract of timothy hay and is used to help people build up a certain amount of immunity to the grass. Grazax® is taken orally, and some people do find improvement in allergy symptoms as a result of taking this medication. Others find side effects like itching of the mouth to be just as bad as the allergic reaction, and stop taking the product.