Timothy hay (phleum pretense) is a perennial grass hay used as feed for many animals from small pets to Triple Crown-winning racehorses. Native to much of Europe, an American colonial farmer is credited with being the first to cultivate the grass in North America in 1720. By 1747, the grass first farmed by Timothy Hanson was known as “timothy” and has since earned a reputation for being the finest forage produced in the world.
Growing high quality Timothy hay requires number of very specific climate conditions. Most regions known for producing this cool-season grass grow are at high altitudes, have harsh winters, and summers with long warm days and cool nights. Cold winters kill off weeds and pests that cannot survive low temperatures, while the hardiness of Timothy hay allows the root system to last through spring. Like other cool-season grasses, Timothy grows best in the spring. Heat and drought during summer months can cause growth to slow or may even cause the grass to go into dormancy until a normal rain cycle resumes due to a shallow, fibrous root system. Regions well-suited for growing Timothy have water readily available for germination and growth and stands should be irrigated frequently to maintain water levels in the shallow root zones during growth.
As is the case for many types of sun-cured forage, wind can also be a key factor in drying time while hay is in wind-rows after cutting. Extended drying time puts forage at risk for nutrition and color loss, which is especially important in the export market. light winds can help to decrease drying time, limiting exposure in the windrow to uncontrollable elements like rain, sun bleach, and humidity.
The combination of these conditions is found in only a few regions around the world, most commonly near major mountain ranges. The altitude brings with it low winter temperatures, warm summer days, and mountain/valley breezes to assist in drying. Below are growing regions known in North America for producing the highest quality Timothy hay:
Lethbridge, AB, CA
Lethbridge is the largest city in southern Alberta, and Alberta’s fourth largest city by population. Situated at the base of the Canadian Rockies, Lethbridge has a perfect climate for growing high quality Timothy Hay.
Ellensburg, WA, USA
Ellensburg is where the hay exporting industry got its start, and Timothy hay has a pillar of the Ellensburg economy since the 1970’s. This city in the Kittitas Valley of Washington State is home to several hay exporters that ship forage products around the world.
In the shadows of beautiful Mt. Shasta, McArthur is a small agricultural community in northern California. Much of the Timothy Hay grown in this area is sold domestically, and any hay that is exported typically ships from the Port of Seattle.
The small farming community of Eureka is located in central Nevada, first settled in 1864. Started as a mining community, it is now known around the world for its high quality Timothy hay and a key area vital to suppling the California horse market.
Adjacent to Eureka sits Humboldt County, home of Winnemucca. Warm days and cool nights make Winnemucca and its semi-arid environment are well suited for producing grass hay like Timothy.
Much of the hay produced in this city in Central Oregon is used by the high end horse market. Along with supplying high quality forage to key markets, important research on grass hay is conducted in this region by Oregon State University.