Frequently Asked Questions
Hay or Haylage?
I currently feed adlib hay to my horse and I want to change him on to haylage – what are the differences between these two sources of forage?
Hay is cut, turned and left to dry until reaching a dry matter of 85-90% at which point it can be baled. Reducing the moisture level to this extent will minimise the risk of mould development during storage, however this drying process inevitably leads to leaf fracture, creating dust and nutrient loss (water soluble carbohydrates (WSC), protein, vitamins and minerals).
Haylage is cut, semi wilted and baled within 24 hours at a dry matter level of 55-65%, therefore, leaf fracture and nutrient losses are kept to a minimum. The bales are compressed and wrapped in several layers of plastic to eliminate oxygen and create the anaerobic conditions necessary for desirable fermentation to occur. During fermentation bacterial species such as lactobacilli, naturally present on the crop, utilise the WSC to survive, replicate and produce lactic acid. Lactic acid will cause the pH to drop to 4.8 – 5.8 which helps to inhibit the growth of undesirable organisms.
Therefore, assuming the product is made correctly, haylage will typically provide higher levels of digestible fibre, energy and protein. However, due to haylage having a higher moisture content than hay more must be fed by weight to provide the necessary levels of fibre and avoid nutrient dilution.
A 500kg horse in light work would have a fibre requirement of approximately 10kg and the haylage had a 65% dry matter level then 15kg of haylage per day would be required to meet fibre requirements.
Due to the volume of haylage required to meet fibre requirements more energy (calories) and protein will also be provided. Therefore, to compensate for these additional calories it may be necessary to reduce concentrate feed and prevent any unwanted weight gain. If the horse in question is a 'good doer' and maintains condition on just hay and a vitamin and mineral supplement then a more calorific haylage may not be the best option. The quantity of haylage could be reduced and fed in a small holed haylage net to ensure the time spent chewing is prolonged. However, this does not mimic a natural grazing position and may have long term effects upon jaw alignment and musculature. Furthermore, there is no reason why you couldn’t mix haylage and hay and feed them together.
If you are concerned the necessary quantities of haylage will be too calorific then I suggest you continue to feed hay. Even the best quality hay will contain some mould and dust spores and it is therefore advisable to soak hay for 20-30 minutes and feed it wet. This will cause any spores to swell and minimise the risk of inhalation and help to maintain respiratory health. Soaking the hay for a minimum of 12 hours will leach out the majority of the nutrients, including WSC. This would allow an overweight horse to have adequate quantities of fibre to meet requirements within a low calorie ration.
It is essential that all horses receive adequate quantities of fibre to maintain a healthy digestive tract and in order to synthesise B vitamins (via microbial fermentation) for energy utilisation and the maintenance of appetite. Furthermore, fibre digestion will help to generate heat for winter warmth. If you do decide to replace the hay I recommend gradually introducing the haylage over a period of 14 days. This period of adjustment will allow the beneficial microbial population to adapt to digesting a more digestible source of fibre.
All types of forage will vary in nutrient content and Dodson & Horrell offer a forage analysis service, please look in our ‘Advice & Support’ section for further details on this service.