Hay and Haylage – which is Best?admin
By cutting green fodder for hay or allowing natural fermentation into haylage, livestock can enjoy the benefits of being grass-fed over the winter.
Good hay and haylage depends on many factors. These include appropriate fertiliser applications, growth stage when cut and how the crop is wilted and stored. But the most important factor is to select the right crop species and varieties to suit the soil type from the start.
Getting the right grass ley for your hay or haylage crop is key! If you’re after an excelled ley with flexibility and successive growth patterns then take a look below! All of our cutting mixtures offer excellent value for money, guaranteed to provide you with a top-quality crop! You can be sure that our range of cutting leys have been trialled and tested rigorously, providing you with high quality varieties so you get the best cut possible!
If you’re looking for something that can be used for hay and grazing, don’t panic! We have just the products for you!
Hay v Haylage – which is right for your horse?
Hay and haylage are the most common forms of preserved forage fed to horses in winter. Whilst both provide a great source of fibre for horses, they have distinct nutritional differences as a result of how each one is processed. So, what are these differences and what do they mean in terms of providing the right nutrition for your horse?
Feeding Hay to Horses
Hay is essentially dried grass. It is normally cut between May and August at a relatively mature stage of growth and left to dry out completely. As a result, the moisture content of hay is very low, but during the drying process some nutrients can be lost. The Dry Matter (DM) content of hay is around 80-95% (NRC, 2008) and the sugar content is generally around 10%, but can be significantly higher or lower depending on the species of grass cut.
The loss of nutrients and the more mature nature of hay means its Digestible Energy (DE) content makes it a low calorie forage. Hay is therefore an excellent choice for good-doers, natives and horses at maintenance or in light work, but for horses with higher energy requirements it may need to be supplemented with extra feed. Hay is great for feeding ad-lib to most horses, without the worry of potential excess weight gain.
Feeding hay to laminitic horses or ponies
For more sensitive metabolic and/or laminitic horses and ponies, however, it is often necessary to reduce the sugar content of hay, so that total Non-Structural Carbohydrates (NSC) – basically sugars plus starch, are 10% or less.
Traditionally this was thought to be best achieved by soaking hay to remove sugars or Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC), but recent research (Longland et al., 2011) has shown that to get a notable reduction of WSC, the hay needs to be soaked for around 16 hours, by which time it is far less palatable. Furthermore, the same study found that despite a mean loss of 27%, WSC contents of 7 of the hays tested remained above the suggested upper limit for laminitic and metabolic horses (100g/kg Body Weight (BW)).
Steaming hay has been shown to significantly reduce WSC (Earring et al., 2014; James et al., 2013; Moore-Colyer et al., 2015), but results have been highly variable and in some cases the reduction in WSC may not be enough.
Steaming could, however, work well for more moderate NSC hays which are not far above the ideal NSC level of 10%, with the WSC reduction from steaming bringing the NSC to within ‘safe’ limits. Low NSC hays can be produced from growing lower NSC grass species and/or cutting the hay at times when the NSC content is naturally lower, for example during the night or after cloudy weather. These hays may provide an ideal solution for laminitic and metabolic horses and ponies, without the need for soaking or steaming.
Hay – the pros and cons
Hay is economical as it is inexpensive to buy and if correctly stored will stay in good condition for a relatively long period of time. Hay is, however, prone to the accumulation of dust and mould spores, meaning it is not ideal for those horses with dust allergies, a compromised respiratory system and those that are stabled frequently.
Hay can be soaked so that the dust spores stick to the hay and are no longer airborne, but this means that they are swallowed instead of inhaled, and the quality of the hay is reduced.
Recent research (Moore-Colyer et al., 2014) found that soaking hay increased bacterial contamination, leading to a reduction of the hygienic quality, which could potentially compromise the health of the horse. Better dust reduction whilst retaining good hay quality can be achieved through steaming rather than soaking hay, as in the same study, steaming significantly reduced mould and bacterial numbers (Moore-Colyer et al., 2014).
Feeding Haylage to horses
Haylage is essentially grass that has been cut earlier and at a younger stage of growth than hay and left to wilt instead of completely drying out. This means haylage has a higher moisture content than hay and a lower DM content, typically around 50-65% (NRC, 2008).
How does the nutritional value of haylage compare to that of hay?
The lower DM content compared to hay means that a higher volume of haylage needs to be fed to ensure the horse receives sufficient fibre. This is important because adequate fibre is essential for healthy digestive function, warmth and for maintaining condition.
As a general guide, haylage should be fed at a rate of 1¼ times more than hay, but this can depend on the DM content of the haylage.
Due to its high moisture content, haylage needs to be wrapped to prevent spoilage, by creating an anaerobic environment. This anaerobic environment means that fermentation takes place which results in a drop in the pH to inhibit spoilage causing organisms.
During fermentation, sugars in the haylage are converted to lactic acid and volatile fatty acids (VFA), meaning that contrary to popular belief, haylage is normally lower in sugar than hay. Haylage is, however, higher in protein, and more digestible than hay giving it a higher DE content. As a result, horses generally tend to do better on haylage, so it’s often not ideal for overweight horses and those prone to weight gain, metabolic and laminitic horses, unless it is a high-fibre, lower DE variety. Furthermore, the acidic nature of haylage as a result of fermentation means that it may not be ideal for those horses with gastric ulcers or hindgut sensitivities.
What’s the difference between hay and haylage?
Here’s a quick guide to both:
|Moisture level||80–95% dry matter||50–65% dry matter|
|Maturity||Cut at a more mature stage||Cut at a younger stage of growth|
|Harvesting period||May–August||Before mid-June|
|Nutrient content||Nutrients lost during the drying process||Higher levels of protein and lower sugar levels|
|Calorie level||Very low-calorie||A lot higher calories compared to hay|
Hay is grass that’s cut at a mature stage before being left to completely dry out. Because of this, it has a very low moisture content. During the drying process, nutrients in the grass can be lost. The more mature nature of the grass, along with the loss of nutrients during the drying process, generally make it a very low-calorie snack. As a horse owner, you won’t need to worry about weight gain when using hay as a bonus feed.
Haylage is grass that’s been cut at an earlier stage of growth than hay. And instead of being left to dry, haylage is wilted. This means it has a much higher moisture content. Because it’s not put through a long drying process, haylage is able to retain more of its nutrients – particularly protein.
The fundamental difference between hay and haylage is the way that the grass is conserved. Hay is cut when grass is mature and left to dry in the field before being baled and stored. To conserve hay and prevent it from spoiling or going mouldy, the grass needs to be sufficiently dry before baling. Typically hay will be 85% or above dry matter which relies on good weather conditions to achieve – not always easy in the UK! Hay of insufficient dry matter will not store well and will be very likely to go mouldy making it unsuitable to feed.
Haylage tends to be cut earlier in the season and is left to wilt for a shorter period of time in the field before being baled and wrapped in several layers of plastic. The difference between haylage and hay is that, whilst the conservation of hay relies on the removal of moisture, the conservation of haylage relies on the exclusion of oxygen which prevents mould growth. Haylage is typically between 50 and 70% dry matter.
There seems to be an increasing trend to produce drier haylage which is more accurately termed ‘wrapped hay’ as the dry matter is closer to that of hay. Caution has to be taken with very dry haylage when wrapping as dry, coarse material may result in more air pockets in the bale and a bale that is more difficult to wrap without puncturing the plastic. Both of these factors can mean that very dry haylage is more susceptible to higher mould counts or becoming spoiled during storage as the higher levels of oxygen increases the opportunity for mould growth.
Another difference between hay and haylage which confuses many people is how much to feed. Due to a greater amount of moisture in haylage you actually need to feed more haylage by weight than hay to provide the same amount of dry matter. For example, a 500kg horse that needed 10kg of forage on a dry matter basis daily would require 11.8kg of hay as fed assuming it was 85% dry matter and 16.7kg of haylage as fed assuming it was 60% dry matter in order to provide this. Knowing how much moisture your forage contains by analysis is key for working this out!
Is haylage better than hay?
Any nutritional differences between hay and haylage are predominantly determined by the grass type and age of maturity when harvested rather than the actual conservation methods. The table below shows the differences between hay and haylage when made from grasses cut within the same field at the same time to show the differences due to the conservation method.
|Post Fermentation DM basis||Hay||Haylage DRY||Haylage WET|
|Dry matter %||88.4||68.4||57.7|
|Crude protein %||10.8||11.6||11|
Preference of horses for grass conserved as hay, haylage or silage C.E. Muller ∗, *Department of Animal Nutrition and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
As can be seen from the table, some nutrients don’t vary much as their levels are determined more by the grass species than the conservation technique. This would include ash which is an analysis of the inorganic materials such as minerals, as well as the NDF which is a measure of fibre. What may be surprising is the difference in WSC. This stands for water soluble carbohydrate and is a measure of the simple sugars plus fructan.
The haylage in the table above has been very carefully conserved and has sufficient moisture to ensure that some fermentation has occurred. This uses up the sugar and converts it to another form of energy called volatile fatty acids which reduces the sugar level. In practice many of the haylages that are tested via Dengie’s forage analysis service have very similar WSC levels to hay, especially if they are more like a wrapped hay with a higher dry matter.
Another thing to consider when weighing up whether haylage is better than hay is respiratory health. Hay is a larger source of respirable particles compared to haylage. Respirable particles are very small particles that are invisible to the naked eye and are a combination of things that could potentially be harmful to your horse’s respiratory health including mould spores and bacteria. Another option for overcoming this issue is to steam hay using a hay steamer e.g. Haygain, or a high temperature dried forage replacer such as Dengie Hi-Fi Senior or Pure Grass as high temperature drying produces a consistently clean forage source.
When can I feed this year’s hay or haylage?
A common question to the Dengie Feedline is how soon can I feed this year’s hay or haylage? When it comes to this year’s hay once it is baled and stored the answer is you can introduce it straight away as long as there is no heating in the bales.
Do bear in mind that the nutritional value of the hay will be greatest just after harvest, nutrients such as vitamins will decline over time. When it comes to haylage it is a bit longer – usually around 6 weeks or longer. This is because it takes time for the fermentation process to take place which then ensures it is properly conserved. Whichever forage you use and whenever you choose to introduce it the key advice is to remember that any change between batches of forage constitutes a dietary change and should be done gradually over the period of a couple of weeks by ideally mixing old and new forage together.
Can I feed hay or haylage as the sole diet or does haylage and hay lose nutritional value with age?
Generally, UK pasture and therefore forage lacks the trace minerals copper, selenium and zinc. Conserved forage like hay or haylage also loses vitamins, for example vitamin E which is usually abundant in grass, very quickly post-harvest. Whilst hay and haylage alone may provide enough calories for many horses and ponies it should be supplemented with a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement, balancer or fortified feed.
One myth when it comes to feeding hay is that last year’s hay is safer for a laminitis prone horse or pony. Post-cutting and baling when the grass has finished respiring there will be no further losses of non-structural carbohydrate, which is the sum of water soluble carbohydrate and starch added together, just through storage alone. The level of non-structural carbohydrate in any forage can be highly variable and is dependent on grass types and environmental conditions during growth and at the time of harvest. The only way to know what a forage provides and therefore how suitable it is for your horse is to get the forage tested.
Is There An Alternative To Hay Or Haylage?
If hay or haylage is in short supply what’s the alternative? A number of the Dengie fibre feeds can be used as partial or full hay replacers. Dengie’s Pure Grass brings the field to the stable, or for good do-ers Hi-Fi Lite is an excellent option. We can provide more information about Dengie’s range of forage replacers, including those suitable for veterans with poor teeth.
How to make the best haylage
Haylage is fast becoming a popular food source for horses. Richer in nutrients and more palatable than standard hay, it provides a number of benefits that make it a solid horse-feed substitute. As a result of its rising popularity among horse owners, it presents a strong business opportunity for farmer and other bale contractors.
The best way to hit this market is with premium haylage. Horse owners want to know their animals are being well fed and nourished. From choosing the right crops to using quality bale wrap, here are our 5 top tips for making the best haylage.
How to make the best haylage:
1. Choose the right crops
The type and quality of your crop matters. You won’t make premium haylage from poor quality grass. It’s important you use a crop that is suitable for haylage. We recommend alfalfa, clover, Timothy, Orchard hay, Teff hay and ryegrass, although other crops are available.
Cut your crop at the right time. For the maximum nutritional haylage, this will be just after the crop has started to bloom or flower. Depending on the kind of crop and climate, aim for mid-June and again, 8-10 weeks later.
2. Moisture matters!
The typical moisture content of a haylage bale is 40-50%. It is important you allow the grass to dry to this level of moisture before baling, as the moisture content of your bales directly affects the quality of the finished haylage.
As a general indicator, look for grasses that are wilted – but not significantly dry – and lighter in weight than wet cut crop.
3. Smaller is better
Smaller haylage bales are much more easy to transport and handle than larger bales, making them the practical choice for both you and your customers. Because they are smaller, they are also used up more quickly, reducing the chance of mouldering or wastage.
Chopping the grasses before baling enables you to pack more grasses into each bale. This higher density is important, reducing the risk of rot during the storage process.
4. Use quality bale wrap
Haylage depends on quality bale wrap in order to guarantee the bales are airtight and secure for storage. Both of these qualities are vital for the fermentation process in order to create premium haylage.
Source your bale wrap from a trusted supplier with a reputation for quality polythene. The best bale wraps are both strong and flexible. Material strength is important for securing your grasses, while a versatile film enables you to wrap any size of bale quickly and easily.
Our Agricultural Stretch Film is specifically designed to meet the exact baling needs of farmers and bale contractors. Find out how this tough, flexible, simple-to-fit product can improve the quality of your haylage.
5. Wrap at least 6-8 times
Haylage bales should be wrapped with a minimum of 8 layers. When high quality bale wrap is used, 6 layers is acceptable. Don’t worry – bale wrap costs are more than compensated for by the reduction in layers and the high selling price of premium haylage.
The haylage market is growing, presenting a great opportunity for farmers and bale contractors to grow with it. Making haylage isn’t difficult, but by following our 5 top tips for making the best haylage, you should be in a strong position to produce the premium-quality haylage your customers want.
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