Timothy grass, and particularly timothy hay, is widely used in temperate areas for feeding ruminants, notably in Europe and North America. Timothy has a good reputation for producing pasture and hay of high feed quality and palatability. However, like any grass, the feed quality of timothy depends on the stage of maturity and on growing conditions. The following table shows the variation in in vivo OM digestibility and estimated ruminant ME in France and Sweden:
||France (INRA, 2007)
||Sweden (Bernes et al., 2008)
||OM digestibility %
||ME MJ/kg DM
||ME MJ/kg DM
When fed at the same digestibility level, perennial ryegrass was superior to timothy, because of a 5-15% higher voluntary feed intake (Minson et al., 1964; Miles et al., 1969; Charlton et al., 2000). This was related to a slower rate of passage and a longer retention time in the gut, an effect attributed to higher lignin content, and to the proportion and composition of the digestible fibre of timothy. Animal performance may be further limited in some situations by its low sodium levels (Charlton et al., 2000).
In a comparison between conservation methods of timothy for dairy cows, haying reduced feed protein degradation in the rumen compared to ensiling though protein metabolism was unaffected by treatments (Martineau et al., 2007).
Timothy hay, silage and pasture are valuable forages for dairy cows. In Canada, in diets containing 17 or 34% barley (DM basis), early cut timothy silage fed to mid-lactation cows was found to have a comparable nutritive value to that of alfalfa silage, when stored at a similar ADF content (Orozco-Hernandez et al., 1997). In Japan, cows fed timothy hay (harvested at different stages) with 4.9 g/d of concentrate produced 17.8 (early stage) to 14.6 kg/d (late stage) of milk. Milk protein and milk sugar were also higher for the early cut timothy, which was explained by the higher intake of digestible carbohydrates in the younger hay (Nishino et al., 2004). In a three-year experiment, early lactation dairy cows fed cut-and-carry fresh timothy grass supplemented with 9.5-10.5 kg/d of concentrate had an average DM intake of 13 kg/d of grass, and an average milk yield of 39.7 kg/d. It was concluded that timothy pasture with suitable supplementation could support the requirements of high-yielding cows without impairing their reproductive and health status (Ohgi et al., 2006). In areas where timothy is a better quality forage than other local grasses, it can play an important part in dairy diets. In Iceland, for instance, since the mid-1990s silage of first cut timothy, harvested before mid-heading and fed with barley grain, has been the basic high quality winter feed for high producing dairy cows (Sveinsson et al., 2006; Helgadóttir et al., 2006). Later cutting dates for primary growth in timothy are not acceptable for high lactating cows and fast growing ruminants (Sveinsson et al., 2006). However, it has been noted that the relatively low protein content of timothy requires supplementation and its use may not be economically justified if supplementary sources of protein must be purchased (Cherney et al., 2011).
Timothy can be valuable for dry cows due to its lower dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) than other cool-season grass species. The DCAD can be decreased even more by fertilizing timothy with CaCl2 or NH4CI or, in a more effective and economic way, by growing timothy on low-K soils. Feeding timothy hay with a low DCAD may help reduce the incidence and the extent of milk fever in dry dairy cows, thus increasing milk production and lowering production costs (Charbonneau et al., 2008).
Timothy can be used for growing cattle. In a three-year experiment in Canada, Hereford steers grazing timothy had a higher average daily gain (1.13 vs. 0.79 kg/d) than animals grazing meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis). Animal productivity of timothy was lower in spring but was sustained over the full grazing season (Rode et al., 1986). In a two-year experiment in Japan, Aberdeen Angus steers grazing intensively timothy pastures had average daily gains of 0.7-0.75 kg/d (Ikeda et al., 1999). In a follow-up experiment, supplementation with timothy silage (3.6 kg DM/d) resulted in higher daily gains (0.81 vs. 0.65 kg/d) (Ikeda et al., 2000).
In grazing lambs and ewes in Wales, a three-year comparison study between timothy, tall fescue, cocksfoot and perennial ryegrass resulted in significantly higher average daily gains from timothy-fed lambs (194 g/d vs. 170 g/d for fescue and ryegrass and 159 g/d for cocksfoot). Timothy-fed ewes had a slightly positive weight gain on average, which was lower than with ryegrass but higher than with fescue or cocksfoot (Davies et al., 1982). In Sweden, in lambs fed timothy silage from grass harvested at different stages of maturity there was a reduction in voluntary intake and lamb performance when maturity increased. DM intake decreased from 30 g/kg LW (harvested before heading) to 20.5 g/kg LW (harvested when 50% of the plants had panicles longer than 5 cm). Likewise, daily gain decreased from 152 to 76 g/d. This decrease in forage quality was linked to changes in chemical composition (NDF increased from 51 to 61.5% DM) and in the in vitro degradation characteristics of the silages. It was, therefore, recommended to harvest timothy before heading (Bernes et al., 2008).