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Haylage – What Is It And When Do I Feed It To My Horses

A number of my equestrian friends have been asking me to put this article together as they feel that many horse owners would really benefit from some definitive information on Haylage, and how to best to buy, feed and store it.

So lets get started, what is Haylage?
Haylage is stored ready for delivery and is  a replacement for hay and provides winter feed or an additional feed supplement.
Grasses are grown and cut in the same way as for hay but it is left to dry for less time. Ideally until it has approximately 30-40% moisture content.
The Bales are wrapped straight after baling and are compressed to approximately two thirds of the original size, which aides storage.
Natural fermentation preserves the grass as haylage and it has about 90% the feed value of grass.
Haylage can be thought of as highly nutritional hay that does not have dust and spores present.
Horse haylage is not the same as silage. (silage is a fermented, high moisture feed and usually not suitable for horses and is generally fed to cattle).

Why Feed Your Horse With Haylage?
Haylage is a very good source of fibre and fibre is vital for the movement of food along the digestive system.
Horses are designed for browsing oreating little but often, therefore slowly chewing haylage is more desirable than a bucket of hard feed eaten in a couple of minutes.
Feeding haylage can provide as much energy and protein as a hard feed, therefore saving money and being much kinder to the digestive system.
Replacing some or all hard feed with good quality haylage for horses could also help to reduce boredom in the stable.
By feeding your horse with Haylage you may avoid respiratory problems in future or it use may aid in managing a current respiratory disease.
With Haylage there is no need for soaking as with hay – this is a real benefit, especially when water freezes as haylage needs no soaking.

How Much Haylage Should I Feed My Horse? 

Small bales are available that you can pick up in your car

According to the BHS Stage 3 guidelines, a horse in light to medium work and kept stabled for much of the time should be given 2.5% of it’s body weight in food, with about 70-75% of that being forage ie. hay or haylage.

This would mean that a 16hd  horse of approx 600Kg would need about 11Kg of hay or haylage per day. Whereas, a 11hd Welsh pony that weighs approx 300Kg would need only about 5Kg of hay or haylage per day.

Of course this only a general and vague guide. Remember each horse should be treated independently.The quality and amount of grazing available at various times of the year will also affect the amount of haylage used. Also the type and amount of exercise and breed of horse will be very significant when calculating the daily food rations.

When Not To Feed A Horse Haylage.
Check each bale and if the wrapping has been damaged do not use it because the air and wet will have gotten in to the feed which means fungal spores may be present. You risk making your horse sick if you take a chance feeding a bale that has damaged wrapping.  Patching up holes is not acceptable! Small bales are available that you can pick up in your car.

If the haylage is wet – this is possibly a sign of secondary fermentation and so another reason it needs to be avoided. If there are white mould patches this is a sure sign of fermented and poisonous feed.

Some horses and ponies  are prone to laminitis because of the higher protein and energy content of haylage vs hay. It is wise to check with your vet if your horse is susceptible to these ailments before feeding with Haylage.

What Else Should You Think About?
Remember that the horse’s digestive system is not the same as sheep and cows. Horses are non-ruminants and have relatively small stomachs and a very sensitive digestive tract, where as sheep, cows, goats, deer and other ruminants have a large foregut, the rumen, that can cope quite well with poor quality food before it then passes into the stomach.

Botulism caused by the toxin of the bacterium ‘clostridium botulinum’ can be found in decaying plant and animal matter and in soil. It thrives in wet warm conditions but is now thought to be rare in UK due to improved farming methods and increasing awareness. Therefore ensure that you check each  bale that you use and ensure that it is not rotten, has no dead animal matter nearby, rats etc. and is free from soil.

Try to avoid equine respiratory problems before they occur – symptoms can appear many years after the initial damage.  When feeding haylage to horses, always try to feed horses from the clean, mud free floor. It is more naturally beneficial for a horses respiratory and lymphatic system, teeth occlusion and for the back muscles. So, avoid haylage nets and haylage racks in stables and fields, instead use low-level haylage feeders, such as the Haybar.

It is important to discard old uneaten haylage from your stable or field daily. Try to avoid storing bales of haylage where cats and dogs may scratch or climb on them or birds pecking at them as this is another opportunity for the haylage to become contaminated.

Bales should be opened straight away and used within a week  in colder temperatures or within 3-4 days  in warm weather. Green cloured wrapping is less likely than black wrapping to be pecked by birds. It also keeps cooler in the summer and can show up damage more easily.

You can get haylage from your local farmers – they have diversified in to this crop over the last decade or so. They will deliver regularly for you. Find a supplier who keeps to delivery dates and does not offer damaged bales to you.

Have Questions About Haylage?

If you still have any questions about haylage, contact the knowledgeable team at Prime Stables by submitting a contact form. Please feel free to contact us if you would like guidance on using haylage for your horses, have questions about sourcing, storing, or feeding it properly, or need suggestions for incorporating it into your feeding program. We happily share our expertise in equine nutrition and haylage management to help owners make the best decisions.

The Stable Doctor
Advice is given without legal responsibility
Research: smallbalehaylage

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