Over the years, the market for haylage for horses has increased dramatically and, with this rise in popularity, many farmers now produce haylage specifically for horses, with a dry matter of 50-75 per cent.
High quality Haylage is made from permanent meadow grass, cut just like hay, in peak condition to conserve all the natural goodness of a range of plants essential for equine health. Instead of being allowed to dry out completely, it is baled when the moisture content is still relatively high. Dust and spores are retained along with the moisture and will not become airborne when the bale is opened.
FEEDING HAYLAGE - The Natural Alternative to Grass
Horses need adequate fibre in their diet to keep their large intestine working properly and, traditionally, in the winter period, this has been supplied by hay.
ADVANTAGES OF HAYLAGE FOR HORSES
1. Sourcing Hay – Good quality hay, suitable for feeding horses is in short supply and as a result it is commanding a high price.
2. Cost-effective – Haylage is often considered more expensive than hay but that is in terms of fresh weight consumed. If its higher nutritional value is taken into account, a reduction in hard feed can be achieved and result in cost savings on a total feed cost per day basis. Buying a bale size that will be consumed within 7-10 days makes economic sense to avoid wastage.
3. It is dust free – The low moisture content of hay (about 10%) allows the dust and mould spores to become airborne which may cause an allergic respiratory disease called ‘Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease’ (COPD) – commonly known as ‘dust cough’ or ‘dust allergy’. Up to one in every five horses suffers from some form of dust allergy.
Haylage bales are immediately wrapped in multiple layers of polythene to exclude all air from the bale and allow a mild fermentation to take place to preserve the bale with no waste.
4. No need to soak – To overcome the dust problem, hay is often soaked in the hope that the dust and spores will stick to the plant stems and be swallowed rather than inhaled. This is a time-consuming, messy and labour intensive task. Soaking leaches out nutrients, reducing considerably the nutritional value of the hay and the resulting water is considered a pollutant similar to sewage
5. Palatable – Most horses prefer haylage to hay, they enjoy it and therefore there is less wastage. Fussy eaters will usually prefer haylage. Studies have shown that given the choice between haylage and hay, horses prefer haylage. This is because it is sweeter and has a more natural, fresh taste of grass.
6. Good nutritional value – Poor quality hay is low in nutrients. Many equine nutritionists recommend feeding haylage isntead of hay. Haylage is much closer to the horse’s natural diet of grass, both in texture and nutritional value.
The most important amino acids for growing and performance horses are lysine and methionine. Lysine concentrations are very low, and when the horse has used up all the lysine stored in its body it is unable to use other amino acids because the body’s receptors no longer match. This is why some amino acids are called limiting amino acids – they limit muscle development. A correct balance between lysine and other essential amino acids is found in clover, alfalfa and grasses such as timothy. The more the horse is fed high-quality haylage, the better it can absorb all the necessary nutrients in a natural, balanced form. Concentrate (cubes) contains only low concentrations of essential amino acids.
7. A natural feed, which is easily digested – Horses prefer wetter forages and many horses ‘dip’ their own hay. This is because it makes it more easily digestible. If made properly it will contain few, if any mould spores and it's higher moisture content (about 40%) helps prevent any spores that are present from becoming airborne and causing problems.
8. Easy storage – Haylage bales are denser and require less storage space. Being wrapped in polythene, it can be stored outside. The unopened, undamaged bales will last all year and may be stored inside or out.
In producing a wrapped haylage bale, we use 8 layers of polythene with a 50% overlap on the bale to ensure that the anaerobic fermentation process works correctly and evenly through the bale.
9. Choice of bale size - Haylage bales come in all shaps and sizes. 20kg, 270kg, 370kg, 500kg. But remember once opened, a bale will last 10-12 days before spoilage occurs (depending upon storage conditions and time of year). We recommend that the plastic wrapping be completely removed.
10. Easy handling - Haylage can be taken off the bale in slices so there is little mess and wastage.
11. Consistency - Correctly made haylage is more consistnt in quality, so there are fewer fluctuatins in the hores's feedd and your horse is not subjectedt to feed that varies in nutritional content and quality from one day to the next. It is very important for the horse’s digestive function that it gets the same nutrients and hygienic quality every day. With this consistency, you can better adapt the horses hard feed, thus avoiding any metabolic problems caused by overfeeding of hard feed.
HOW MUCH HAYLAGE SHOULD I FEED?
You may need to get used to handling haylage so as not to over or under feed your horse.
A typical 500kg 16hh riding horse requires a minimum daily roughage intake of about 1% bodyweight, i.e. 5kg of hay. Due to its higher moisture content, the same horse would require 7 to 8.5kg of haylage.
Although you need more haylage by weight you need much less by volume as, again due to the higher moisture content, haylage is much denser than hay. At the beginning it is best to weigh out the required amount each day until you get used to judging the volume.
You should also note that haylage dry matter has a higher nutritional value than hay (about 10% higher) so less supplementary feed will be needed if you are feeding the same amount of dry matter to meet the horse’s energy requirements.
The production of haylage is not simply a matter of wrapping un-dried hay, but is an expert process that requires knowledge of the manufacturing process and the finished product as well as where that product is to be used.
We feed our own horses, Dressage competition horses, broodmares, stallions, young stock and foals, with the haylage produced at Lower Mansty Farm and we have a large investment in equipment specifically designed for the production and delivery of haylage.
Haylage is preserved by a natural anaerobic (absence of air) fermentation process brought about by lactic acid bacteria. The fresh crop of grass contains a mixture of different types of these bacteria but the ideal types for making haylage are present in relatively small numbers.
Our aim is:
To produce a uniform bale
Improve the fermentation process, nutritive value and palatability Reduce waste
Reduce variability between bales
Resulting in a highly palatable, good quality haylage.
Other considerations in good quality haylage making include the following:
The dryness of the material when wrapped limits the extent of the fermentation. The material should be 60% or more dry when wrapped. Anything wetter than this will produce a silage-like bale. This will be more acidic and not suitable for horses.
The increased risk of introducing a bale with botulism should the material not be dried to this extent. This is also a problem if a dead animal is baled by accident, or earth (from a mole hill for example) is baled.
It is advantageous to maintain a ley of adaptable, reliable grasses. With the excellent digestibility value the mixture of improved hybrid and perennial ryegrass makes the mixture below, highly palatable forage in any form. The grass varieties have also been chosen for their high disease resistance, as this is imperative to the performance and consistency over the expected term
- Throughout the growing season we ensure that the fields are weed free, in particular ragwort free
When cutting we ensure that the cut is left ‘high’ so that no earth is introduced to the bale at this stage.
Fields are checked regularly for moles.
We know which field each bale came from and the environmental conditions on the day it was made.
A FEW EXTRA Q & A’S
Question: What is dry matter?
Answer: Dry matter, put simply, is everything in the forage that is not water. For example, hay is very dry, and contains only 16% water (84% dry matter), while haylage usually has between 45% and 70% dry matter.
Question: What is the difference between silage, haylage and hay?
Answer: Haylage has a dry matter content of 45–70% whereas silage has a dry matter content under 45%. Silage is not often given to horses, because it has been harvested and chopped in much smaller pieces, which is not optimal for horses. Hay has a dry matter content of 84%.
Question: My horse eats the haylage very quickly. Why is this?
This may happen when you have just started feeding haylage as your horse or pony will think all its Christmas' have come at once! However it should soon settle down to acceptable amounts.
If you think your horse is still eating too much I would suggest you use 2 or even 3 hay nets inside one another to make your horse work a little harder to get it. It is not recommended to leave your horse without forage for long periods as they are constant grazers and it is important to mimic there conditions in the wild to avoid stomach problems, little and often is best.
Question: Can I feed it ad lib?
Yes you can you will find that your horse will ration itself once the excitement of such delicious forage has worn off
Question: My horse is on box rest, how much haylage should I feed it?
As long as you have cut down the hard feed and your horse is getting all the vitamins and mineral supplements it needs, you should be able to feed ad lib depending on the reasons for the box rest if in doubt consult your vet.
FOR THOSE OF YOU STILL NOT CONVINCED, WE DO MAKE HAY
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