You might never have heard of perennial peanut grass hay, but it’s one of the best-kept forage secrets of the southeastern United States. It’s also an excellent forage for livestock, including pigs, horses, dairy goats, sheep and rabbits. If you don’t know what perennial peanut hay is, it’s a forage grass hay made out of the Arachis glabrata plant (also known as rhizoma peanut) and has roughly the same nutritional qualities as alfalfa. In fact, in some areas of the United States, where alfalfa is difficult to get or very expensive, perennial peanut grass hay is one type of hay fed as an alternative.
The perennial peanut grass is a warm-weather legume, but it should not be confused with peanut hay. The latter is something completely different, with no nutritional value for livestock. Peanut hay is made from the plant Arachis hypogaea which is left over after harvesting peanuts; it has no nutritional value because all the plant’s efforts have gone into making peanuts for people to eat.
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Perennial peanut hay does not produce peanuts. In fact, it’s bred only for the nutritional qualities of the peanut grass itself for livestock or as a ground cover. If not harvested in time, peanut grass will produce beautiful yellow flowers starting in spring and on into early fall.
Perennial peanut grass is grown largely in the southeastern United States, typically in Georgia and Florida, where it is difficult to grow any other type of hay. In most areas of the South, particularly coastal areas, the ground does not have the necessary nutrients to effectively grow grass hay such as timothy, orchard grass or alfalfa. Livestock owners are left to either truck in grass hay at great expense or turn to alternative products, such as perennial peanut hay. Like other grass hays, perennial peanut hay can be preserved in a silage-making process that ferments the peanut grass to improve the nutrients.
Unlike traditional grass hays, perennial peanut grass has the ability to exist in a pasture indefinitely, although it can take many years before a viable harvest is seen. Perennial peanut grass is sterile; it is established in a pasture and is reproduced by planting rhizomes harvested from a parent specimen. An established field of perennial peanut grass can last 20 to 30 years, according to the University of Florida.
While it can be difficult to source, if you want to avoid feeding your livestock pesticides or chemical fertilizers, then peanut hay might be for you. One major advantage to perennial peanut hay is that after the plant is established in a pasture, the peanut grass does not require pesticides or fertilizer to maintain its growth rate.
This advantage starkly contrasts with other grass hays, such as timothy, alfalfa, or orchard grass, each of which require heavy fertilization to maximize its nutritional value, as well as pesticides. Perennial peanut grass is able to harvest nutrients and water deep in the soil because of the lengths of its roots, while other grass hays are dependent on topsoil or fertilizer to provide necessary vitamins and minerals.
While perennial peanut grass hay is ideal for goats, sheep, pigs, and rabbits, one species of livestock that benefits from it best is horses. Perennial peanut hay contains between 13 percent to 20 percent protein, making it very similar to alfalfa in that regard. Many horse owners in the South swap alfalfa with peanut hay, due to the expense of alfalfa in the area. If you aren’t sure what to feed horses as an alternative to traditional grass hay, then perennial peanut hay is a good option.
Perennial peanut hay is generally a soft hay, like timothy or alfalfa, making it easy to consume, with a high amount of digestible energy. For horses, it is not difficult to chew or swallow, unlike other alternative hays, such as pea hay. Although a horse can colic on any hay, in my experience, they are less likely to colic on peanut hay than, for example, coastal hay or pea hay.
It is very palatable to horses, and in fact, some horses prefer peanut hay to timothy or orchard grass. However, there are a couple things to bear in mind when feeding peanut hay to horses. First, the dried peanut grass itself is very messy, with lots of little leaves that like to fall off. The leaves are easily swept up and into the nearest stall, however, if you’re not careful, you could lose part of your hay to the wind. It’s best to store peanut grass hay close to your horses to minimize loss.
In addition, because peanut grass hay is so high in protein, care should be taken when feeding it to livestock. Just as some horses will develop laminitis or founder on alfalfa, a similar crisis can happen when feeding perennial peanut hay. Use your best judgment; if you are feeding a pony, a horse that has previously foundered, or a similar equine that has a higher likelihood of developing laminitis, and are not sure how much hay to feed a horse with previous issues, then consult a qualified equine veterinarian.
Without a doubt, your horse will love the taste, but might not love the effects of the peanut grass. For horses that do not require all the nutrients that perennial peanut hay provides, then offering the peanut grass alongside traditional grass hays is a good idea.
If you’re looking for a good quality alternative forage, and also want to reduce the pesticides to which your livestock are exposed, then perennial peanut hay is a good option. For more livestock care articles, you can catch up with me at my homesteading website, FrugalChicken.