Some horses simply prefer one to the other while their owners might think one has more to offer, but hay and haylage both have their benefits, so which one is right for your horse? We look at them both so you can make an informed decision.
It can be difficult to source a consistently good supply of hay and many of you may have experienced a dodgy batch or two. Hay quality is dependent upon the quality of the grass harvested and its dry matter at the time of baling. Weather conditions during production will affect the quality significantly.
Most samples of hay contain high levels of dust, mould and dust mites – and their faeces. Dust and mould spores can cause serious problems for your horse’s respiratory health. They often result in an allergic reaction which may lead to permanent respiratory problems such as RAO (Recurrent Airway Obstruction). So, freedom from dust and mould spores is more important than nutritional value. Soaking hay can minimise the
effects, but this also greatly reduces the nutrient value and, once dry, the spores will become airborne again.
What to look for
If possible, ask to examine hay before you buy it. It should have a clean sweet smell with a green colour, and should not be fed if musty or dark in colour.
What’s it worth?
Hay can typically provide over 70% of the total diet for a mature horse, so its nutritional value should not be overlooked. You can get a basic nutritional analysis from some feed manufacturers to indicate levels of protein, energy, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Moisture content and dry matter will confirm quality observations.
Big Bale Haylage
Many feed merchants offer large baled, locally produced, unbranded farm haylage, which can be a big money saver. But you can’t always be sure exactly what you’re feeding to your horse. Big bale haylage is often made from older pasture which may previously have been grazed, so it’s more likely to contain weeds which can be unpalatable for horses.
After cutting, wilting and baling, haylage is wrapped to exclude air. It must be wrapped sufficiently to ensure a complete seal as exposure to air can increase the risk of: Myco-toxins – toxic chemical products produced by fungi. Botulism – a form of food poisoning which can be fatal. The quality, nutritional content, dry matter and acidity of big bale haylage may all be variable and it‘s unlikely to have been analysed or come with a quality guarantee.
Top quality bagged forage from a well established, reliable producer will have a consistent and high nutritional value as well as a full nutritional analysis and quality guarantee. It will also contain optimum levels of protein and vitamins and is dust-free. Most offer variety of grass types for higher or lower energy feeding to suit all horses and ponies, and it’s highly palatable making it ideal for fussy feeders. The selected grasses are specifically sown for this purpose and are usually reseeded every two to three years to maintain grass quality, with production analysed daily.
What to look for
When buying bagged haylage make sure that the bag is fully sealed with no holes or tears.
What’s it worth?
This type of haylage is cut and turned in the same way as hay, but instead of allowing it to dry completely on the field, it’s baled when the grass has semi-wilted and the dry matter has reached around 55%. This strict quality control takes place throughout the production process in order to ensure the optimum moisture content of 35 - 45% together with the fibre and nutrient levels.