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Bahia Grass Hay & Bahiagrass Pasture for Horses

Chestnut horse portrait

Bahiagrass Pasture & Bahia Grass Hay for Horses

What is Bahiagrass Pasture and Bahia hay?

Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum) is a perennial warm-season grass native to South America, specifically Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. It was first introduced to the United States in the early 1900s and has since become a popular forage and pasture grass species across the southeastern US, from Florida to Texas and even extending into central regions like Sand Mountain. Bahiagrass is highly valued for its adaptability to various soil types, including sandy soils and poorly drained soils, as well as its low input requirements and tolerance for drought and low soil fertility.

The adaptability of bahiagrass to the US climate is due to its warm-season growth habit and cold tolerance, which allows it to flourish in the southeastern states where temperatures range from mild to hot. It is well-adapted to a variety of soil types and can thrive in areas with a soil pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.5. Its deep root system enables it to endure periods of drought and draw nutrients from deeper soil layers, making it a suitable grass species for erosion control and soil stabilization. Furthermore, bahiagrass is responsive to nitrogen fertilization, which can increase forage yield and quality, even under low fertility conditions.

When it comes to cultivation tactics, bahiagrass can be established through seeding or vegetative propagation. The most common method of establishment is broadcasting grass seed onto a well-prepared soil surface, followed by rolling or packing the soil to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. Proper fertilization is essential during the establishment phase, with application rates of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium depending on soil test results.

For optimal growth of bahiagrass, grazing management practices such as rotational grazing or continuous grazing with close grazing height control in pastures can be employed. Additionally, incorporating legumes or overseeding with cool-season forage species like annual ryegrass can help extend the grazing season and enhance overall forage quality. For more information about cultivating bahia, we recommend you contact your local extension agent or land grant university. 

Nutritional Content of Bahia Grass for Horses

The nutritional content of bahiagrass hay depends on factors such as the stage of growth at harvesting, soil fertility, and fertilization practices. While bahiagrass is not considered as high in crude protein compared to other grasses like bermudagrass, it typically contains around 8-12% crude protein, which can satisfy the protein requirements for many horses, particularly those with lower energy and protein demands.

When it comes to energy content, bahiagrass hay tends to have lower levels of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) compared to other forages. This characteristic makes bahia grass hay an attractive option for insulin-resistant or overweight horses, as well as equines prone to laminitis. Moreover, bahiagrass is rich in fiber, which plays a crucial role in maintaining proper digestive function and gut health in horses. High fiber content encourages slower consumption and better digestion, ensuring that the horse's gastrointestinal tract functions optimally.

However, it is essential to note that the palatability of bahiagrass hay can be an issue for some horses, as it might be less appealing than other types of grass hay. Horse owners must monitor their equine's acceptance of bahiagrass hay, and if necessary, mix it with other more palatable forages to maintain optimal nutrition. It is also vital to regularly test the nutrient content of the hay, as it can vary significantly depending on factors such as growing conditions, cutting stage, and storage conditions.

Comparison to Bermuda Grass

Bahiagrass and bermudagrass are two widely cultivated warm-season perennial grasses in the southeastern United States, known for their adaptability and suitability as forage for horses and other livestock. Although both grasses share some similarities, they also exhibit distinct characteristics, which can impact their nutritional content, cultivation practices, and overall performance.

In terms of nutritional content, bermudagrass generally contains higher crude protein levels than bahiagrass, ranging between 10-18% depending on the cultivar and growing conditions. This makes bermudagrass more suitable for high-performance horses or those with increased protein requirements. However, bahiagrass hay, with its lower non-structural carbohydrate levels, might be a better option for insulin-resistant or overweight horses.

When comparing their cultivation practices, bermudagrass has a higher yield potential than bahiagrass, but it also demands more intensive management practices, such as more frequent fertilization and irrigation. Bahiagrass, on the other hand, requires less input, as it can thrive in low fertility soils and is more drought-resistant, making it a more economical and low-maintenance option for many livestock producers.

Another crucial aspect to consider is the erosion control capability of both grasses. Bahiagrass, with its deep root system, is highly effective in preventing soil erosion and stabilizing soil, making it an excellent choice for poorly drained or sandy soils. Conversely, bermudagrass, while it can also contribute to erosion control, does not perform as effectively as bahiagrass in this regard.


Bahia is a grass that tolerates hot temperatures and can often be found in the Southeast of the US. It has become more popular in recent years as a horse feed for both grazing and hay. What's great about bahiagrass is that it can grow in all sorts of soil types, and it doesn't mind if there's a drought or if the soil isn't super fertile. Plus, it's excellent at keeping soil erosion under control.

However, because Bahia grass is a warm-season grass, it becomes dormant and loses its nutritional value during the winter months in cooler climates. As a result, it may not be an appropriate feed source for horses in these regions, and it may be necessary to supplement with hay or other sources of forage during the winter months. In the video, Dr. Worth explains why feeding bahia can be useful and its nutritional value.


1 comment

  • B. (buffie) LaVoie

    ….Bahia grass hay looks interesting because my horses are easy-keepers that night graze on established fescue paddocks (in muzzles) and stalled during the day with slow-feed hay nets of (soaked) fescue. How closely related to Bermuda is Bahia ? (Bermuda hay has been know to cause colic in horses)

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