Teff grass is a new forage crop being tested in California that has been around for a few thousand years.

For Kim Anderson’s string of 18 rescue horses, it arrived none too soon.

“The horses will walk right by the bermudagrass pasture and go to the Teff. They prefer it and do very well on it,” she said.

Anderson, from Sanger, Calif., is a senior plant health major at California State University. She first saw Teff at college where CSUF is testing the annual grass under center pivot irrigation at the school’s northeast Fresno farm.

Cal/West Seeds, Woodland, Calif., is distributing Teff and is working with CSUF in demonstrating and evaluating its value.

Jack Griffin, regional sales manager for Producer’s Choice Seed, is marketing Teff and said there are about 2,000 acres of it now planted in the central San Joaquin Valley. There are about 250,000 acres planted nationwide.

Anderson pastures her horses on 16 acres, 13 of which were planted to Teff last year. Alfalfa is the most commonly fed horse forage. Wheat, oat and barley hay also are other horse hay choices.

Horses are grazing animals. They need a high-fiber, low carbohydrate diet containing 8 percent to 10 percent protein to keep the gut working on a continuous basis. Horses that receive insufficient amounts of fiber are more likely to develop colic, due to obstructions not moving through the intestines properly.

Alfalfa’s high protein content can also cause a horse to colic or founder. Hay that is mostly or all alfalfa can only be fed to horses in very small amounts. Alfalfa hay generally contains more calories and less fermentable fiber per pound than grasshay. Therefore, stalled horses fed alfalfa are given fewer pounds of hay per day and spend less time eating than horses consuming grass hay.

Horse owners are well aware that grazing horses on alfalfa also can cause colic.

Colic is a deadly disease for horses. Horses die of colic more than any other cause of death.

“You can spend $10,000 on vet bills to try to save a horse from dying of colic and still watch it die,” said Anderson.