Coastal Bermuda is the most common hay fed to horses in Texas. The University of Florida extension service indicates that coastal Bermuda grass is actually a cross or hybrid between two Bermuda grasses that was developed in Georgia in 1943. Coastal Bermuda has sterile flowers as there is no seed production and the plant reproduces vegetatively through pieces of stems or runners. A similar grass is Tifton 85, and lots of folks call it Bermuda grass but it is different as Tifton 85 is a cross between a Bermuda grass and a close tropical relative called stargrass that was used in the cross to increase digestibility. Tifton 85 is taller with larger stems and darker colored broader leaves, while the rhizomes or underground stems are fewer in number but larger to increase drought tolerance. But although Tifton 85 is more drought tolerant than coastal Bermuda, it is less winter hardy so there are some areas in which Tifton 85 may not do as well.
As far as production, testing in Florida indicates that in general Tifton 85 yields more forage compared to coastal, is more digestible, has a lower sugar content, and is slightly higher in crude protein. Although it has thicker stems, the stems have higher fiber content that is more digestible. The University of Florida indicates that in their studies, it’s not true that Tifton 85 has larger stems and is not palatable for horses. And the fact that Tifton 85 is lower in sugar content is important because we have so many horses that are insulin resistant and have developed laminitis and foundered. So if you have a horse that is insulin resistant and has foundered, consider testing Tifton 85 for its sugar content as it may be a better option for you than coastal Bermuda.
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email email@example.com.