Hay VS. Haylage

Well, it's that time of year again - when the ground starts to get a bit boggy, the horses start coming in at night and the rugs start being piled on. It's true to say winter is well underway! 

It's my first year being back on a livery yard (I figured I needed lessons so I may aswell stay on site until I'm sorted!) and they've started feeding haylage to the horses. I've always fed hay as we grew our own and never put much thought into feeding haylage. So it kinda got me thinking about which I should grow and feed next year ... 

Haylage is essentially a middle ground between hay and fresh grass. 

Haylage is cut, semi wilted and baled within 24 hours until it contains a dry matter level of  55 - 65%. The bales are compressed and wrapped in several layers of plastic (at least 6!) to eliminate oxygen and allow some fermentation to take place ... this basically causes the acidity level to rise so as to stop and slow down any growth of bad bacteria, moulds and other organisms. As the grass is younger and is more palatable (so less waste!), horses tend to do better on it and eat it more readily if fed ad-lib. As it is covered in plastic it can be stored outdoors, unlike hay, so perfect for those short on space. It does however start to deteriorate as soon as it is opened so may not be practical for those keeping just one or two horses (it should be used up within a few days).

Hay on the other hand is cut, turned and left to dry until it's dry matter level reaches 85 - 90%. As it has such a low moisture level it inhibits the risk of mould during storage, however this low moisture level can also create dust and causes nutrient loss (water soluble carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals).

Some people do worry about the protein levels in haylage and as far as I can recall there is a minimal difference between hay and haylage. This is when it is worth remembering about haylage being a halfway point between hay and grass ... how many times do we worry about horses getting too much protein from grass or hay? It's more the calorie and sugar content that should be monitored especially when it comes to good doers (most people have to switch these kind of horses back on to hay!)

Fibre is vital for horses to maintain a healthy digestive system but it also reduces the chances of colic, gastric ulcers and also stable vices. Horses also need it in order to make B vitamins (via microbial fermentation  for energy utilisation and the maintenance of appetite). Fibre is also important for generating heat to keep horses warm in winter. 

Haylage is often more expensive than hay but it can be better value as hard (concentrate) feed can often be reduced as haylage is more nutritious. 

Haylage provides a higher level of digestible fibre, energy (haylage is higher in sugar and can make some horses a bit fizzy) and calories. Due to hay having a higher moisture level then hay is means that the vitamins and minerals are more "diluted" so it must be fed in larger quantities in order to provide the necessary levels of fibre, nutrients etc

Hmmm ... now I'm not sure what to do! Liath seems to be absolutely wolfing down her haylage and given how mad our summer was last year I think I may just attempt to grow some haylage. But for now she's happy and putting on a bit of condition ... slowly but surely we are making progress! We'll be out and about showing off in no time - yay!! 

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