Wednesday 30 November 2011

All about hay and haylage

This is a rather mundane post, I am afraid, but recently there seems to have been quite a lot of discussion about hay vs haylage - apologies to everyone for whom this is grannies sucking eggs and oh-so-been-there-done-that...  Just duck out and do something more exciting and come back and tell us all about it later ;-)

I've read some quite out of date information online and I've also had several queries from owners.  Altogether it sounds as if there is quite a bit of confusion out there so I thought a post about the differences, pros and cons might be useful.  FWIW, this is not stuff that I've made up but it comes from either the NRC 2007 "bible" of equine nutrition or good UK farming practice (since the NRC isn't really au fait with a climate like Exmoor and lots of US peeps still view with incredulity a climate where you really, honestly, truly can't make good hay!).
Basics first - you can make the same grass into either hay or haylage.  Which it becomes simply depends on the process, not what sort of grass it is.  There is a common preconception that haylage is always "richer" than hay but this isn't actually true.  It depends whether you are looking at protein, energy or sugar levels and it depends on what types of grasses your hay or haylage was made from.

So, here are the nuts and bolts.
  • has a lower moisture content than haylage (should be 80% DM or higher);
  • needs several days of continuously hot, dry weather to be properly made;
  • MUST be correctly stored as humid, damp conditions can make it mouldy;
  • has more spores/dust than haylage so should be soaked or steamed before feeding;
  • can be high in sugar/starch (water soluble sugars can also be reduced by soaking);
  • is lower in digestible energy and protein than haylage made from the same grass.
  • should have a higher moisture content than hay but lower than silage; 40-65% DM is necessary for it to be suitable for horses;
  • is partially dried (as if for hay) but is baled earlier and immediately wrapped. Good haylage can therefore be made where weather conditions are too precarious to make good hay (like Exmoor!);
  • does not contain the level of spores/dust found in hay;
  • has a lower level of non structural carbohydrate than hay made from the same grass; this is because the fermentation process converts sugars into fatty acids.  Haylage need not be soaked because (a) high levels of water soluble sugars are not present and (b) once wet, it goes off and becomes unpalatable extremely quickly;
  • provides more digestible energy and protein than hay made from the same grass;
  • bales can be stored outside for months at a time but must NOT be punctured.
As always, your own horses are the best judges of what is "safe" forage but don't automatically discount haylage - it can be fantastic stuff ;-)


Anonymous said...

I'm always interested to read about haylage as we don't have it here in the States.

jenj said...

Wow, thank you for that explanation. I really had no idea what the difference was! And I don't think I've EVER seen haylege in the US.

If haylege is so high in moisture and it's so tightly wrapped, what keeps it from molding?

Neets Human said...

I am still wondering why Neets got a squitty bum on hayladge but was fine on hay made from same fields. I was wondering whether it was related to the lactic acid in haylage disturbing the hind gut..?

Nic Barker said...

Glad you liked it Jen - not that you will ever need haylage in your climate!

Once its wrapped the forage basically ferments - it takes about 6-8 weeks and it must be a different process from fermenting wine or beer because it doesn't end up alcoholic(!). Mould only happens if the bales are punctured and air gets in and spoils them.

Nic Barker said...

Could definitely be the acidity, NH - its not a problem I've had here but our land is acidic in any case. If you are on more alkaline land then perhaps it was just too big a change?

cptrayes said...

I have fed two laminitics on haylage with no issues whatsoever. It really does depend on WHAT haylage. All too often it is made from fertilised new ley ryegrass which is too rich to start with. I buy meadow haylage with a mixture of grasses in it that has been established for years. New ley is reseeded every three years or so for maximum growth.

I think fermentation does produce some alcohol Nic - sometimes I can smell it and the horse just love it when it smells strong!!


Nic Barker said...

C- yep, totally agree, I've had a number of rehabs who had also been laminitic in the past and they were all fine on haylage (most were also fine on our grass, within limits, so as always it depends on the underlying grasses and minerals, not the process).

Not sure about the alcohol, but you could be right ;-)

amandap said...

I wholeheartedly agree it depends on the grass the haylage is made from as well as bagging it at the correct moisture content. Sadly, my attempt at feeding haylage made on old meadow was a disaster but I suspect it was verging on silage.
The commercial haylages over here I've found are no good for my lot either, hoof effects as well as 'hyperness' (if that's a word) resulted. As far as I know I can't get Marksway without having it shipped over. Lol hay will have to suffice.

Thanks so much for your points about haylage soaking.

amandap said...

May I ask, out of interest, do you fertilize your grazing and haylage grass? If you do, do you fertilize according to soil analysis?

I'm still wavering what to do with my grazing. I limed three years ago ph was 5.5! but don't know whether it's best to fertilize (bespoke) or leave it alone? I tend to think Kathryn Watts may be right but the 'leave grass to naturalize' folk keep me hovering in indecision.

I'm not asking for personal advice by the way just an insight into your thinking on this considering hay and haylage is as 'good' as the grass it's made from. I'm aiming for as low sugar grass as possible. I am aware of how weather and temperature can affect sugars in grass as well as soil.

Nic Barker said...

Hi Amanda,

Yes, you could well have had problems if moisture content was too high and it was more like silage than haylage.

We do fertilise, but only with FYM and fairly lightly. I wouldn't use chemical fertilisers personally but we do lime as our land is acidic and certainly the haylage has been better since we did that.

Naturalising is a nice idea but if we continually took haylage off and put nothing back I think we would end up getting less and less each year or more and more docks and thistles!

amandap said...

Now I've worked out what FYM stands for (doh! farm yard manure) I can reply. I do put my muck heap out to rot and have it spread. My soil is low in humus and sadly they use those slatted sheds here for cattle so no bedding in manure from local farmers, only slurry.

I think I'll continue the same for now. Thanks.

Debbie said...

A great summary. My T'breds were previoulsy on haylage and my vet commented that for older horses it can be better to feed hay as haylage can be worse for eating away at their gums. Is that a common perspective?

Unknown said...

I live in the states and found some alfalfa haylage. Unfortunately, it is too hot and humid here and the stuff molded before I could feed it. I had it in a shed out of the weather, but it just did not work. I will say that the horses loved it, there was no mold and would have continued to feed it if I had an air conditioned place to store it! It is only spring and our temperatures have been in the upper 90's and the heat indicies are near 105!!! That is degrees F not C!!!

Nic Barker said...

I've never heard off haylage causing gum disease - although I think high sugar levels could certainly cause a problem but that would be true of hay as well.

It's interesting that you had probems with mould in high temperatures. I suspect it wasn't properly wrapped or that heat damaged the plastic but in a hot country you should be able to make good hay so wouldn't need haylage anyway.