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Galesville area farmer and horsewoman Valerie Pierzina holds a stem of a teff plant missed during a late summer cutting. She and her husband, Brian, raise the variety for horse owners whose horses need lower calorie forage. Teff was originally grown in Ethiopia as a forage and grain crop.

Horse owners have a new forage option for their equines that struggle with metabolic issues. Teff hay might be the answer for owners of “easy keeper” horses.

Valerie Pierzina and her husband, Brian, have been raising teff, an ancient grain originating from Ethiopia. The couple raises about five acres of teff on their Manes & Grains Farm located near Trempealeau.

Pierzina, a University of Wisconsin-River Falls animal science and equine management graduate, raises the hay to feed her Morgan horses. A couple of her herd needs to have their calorie levels managed to prevent health issues resulting from richer forages.

While teff is grown as a grain in Africa, Pierzina learned teff is palatable and digestible as a hay source because of its low sugar/starch content and moderate protein level. Ethiopians are thought to have domesticated teff sometime between 4000 BCE and 1000 BCE, raising the plant as a crop.

“Teff is drought and heat tolerant and loves sand,” said Pierzina.

As with many plants found in sandy and drought-prone regions, teff leaves are lance shaped but can produce a thick stand.

“It’s thin leafed and soft, but produces a lush carpet,” said Pierzina

Because of its low calorie content, teff can provide horses with polysaccharide storage myopathy with forage that doesn’t aggravate the condition. Generally going by its initials, PSSM is a chronic muscular condition more commonly known as “tying up.” Teff could also help horses diagnosed with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, often referred to as equine Cushings disease.

Since the hay can tolerate sandier soil and drier conditions, Pierzinas raise the hay on a field where their center-pivot irrigation equipment doesn’t reach. They also raise 200 acres of traditional hay varieties containing grass and alfalfa grass mix. They also offer hay baled in various sizes, including small square, large square and large round.

While teff seems adaptable to various environments, it isn’t able to withstand the freezing temperatures of the northern states. So, Pierzinas need to treat the hay as an annual and plant a new crop every spring. However, it can be raised as a perennial in southern states, where the Pierzinas are able to obtain seed for spring planting.

Planting is usually done in June and two cuttings can be made per growing season. Despite its thin, grass-like leaves, Pierzina says the hay cuttings can take a while to dry and often need more time and work before it can be baled.

With the extra cost of buying seed and additional attention at harvest, Pierzina admits their teff hay bales are a bit more expensive than the more common varieties of hay.

“We have to ted the hay a couple times so it will dry,” said Pierzina.

Under ideal growing temperatures and moisture, teff germinates quickly and is ready for early harvest in 45 to 55 days after seeding. Pierzina also says its roots aid in aerating the soil and can be used as a cover crop. In addition to growing it as hay, teff can be used for grazing.

Those looking for more information about teff can check out a video about the crop posted on the Manes & Grains Farm Facebook page.

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