The most important feed decision you make for your horse or pony should be choosing the best type of forage as this should provide up to 100% of the equine diet.
Hay or haylage? This is a choice that is often made simply on cost, but with so many products on the market these days, how can you be sure you are feeding the best type of forage for your horse? Here are some factors that may help you decide:
Hay is normally the cheapest type of forage. Usually locally-produced, it can be inconsistent as quality and hygiene is dependent upon the type of grass harvested and its dry matter at the time of baling, along with the weather conditions during harvesting.
A dust-free forage is more important than nutritional value as hay with a low nutritional content can be supplemented with either a bagged forage and/or concentrates. It should have a clean sweet smell together with a green colour and should not be fed if musty or dark in colour
- Easy to handle
- Will contain dust and possibly mould spores
- May need to be steamed (Soaking is not advised).
- Unlikely to have nutritional analysis
- May need supplementing.
- Higher sugar content than bagged forage.
- Must be stored undercover
Big Bale Haylage
Many feed merchants offer large baled, locally-produced farm haylage which is unbranded. Big bale haylage is often made from older pasture which may previously have been grazed. As with hay, previously grazed pasture tends to be perennial containing weeds which can be unpalatable for horses.
After cutting, wilting and baling it is wrapped to exclude air. The quality, nutritional content, dry matter and acidity may all be variable.
As with any bagged forage if allowed to stand open for too long or if the bales are punctured, it may become contaminated.
- Less likely to be dusty
- May have nutritional analysis
- More palatable than hay
- Can go off if left to stand open for too long
- Punctured bales can be dangerous if fed
- Can be expensive
- Unlikely to be guaranteed
- May contain chemical additives, inoculants and/or mould inhibitors
- Higher sugar content than bagged forage – unsuitable for horses and ponies prone to laminitis.
- Large bales can be difficult to handle
Bagged Forage (Small baled haylage)
Top quality bagged forage from a reliable producer, such as HorseHage, will have a consistent and high nutritional value as well as a full nutritional analysis and quality guarantee.
The selected grasses are specifically sown for this purpose and are usually regularly reseeded to maintain grass quality, with production analysed daily.
It is cut and turned in the same way as hay, but instead of allowing it to dry completely on the field, it is baled when the grass has semi-wilted and the dry matter has reached around 55%. Strict quality control takes place throughout its production process in order to ensure the optimum moisture content of 35 – 45% together with the fibre and nutrient levels. The bales are hydraulically compressed to leave a minimum amount of air in the bag to allow optimum fermentation and minimise the growth of mould and bacteria. The surviving yeast and bacteria start to ferment, causing the sugars in the grass to break down, reducing the acidity level, and giving it a pleasant, sweet smell and preserving the grass. The bales are then heat sealed into double-lined plastic bags to reduce the risk of puncturing.
- Full nutritional analysis provided
- Consistent with 100% quality guaranteed
- Low sugar content
- Some varieties suitable for horses and ponies prone to laminitis
- Contains no chemical additives, inoculants or mould inhibitors
- Has different varieties to suit varying energy requirements
- No waste – horses relish the taste and generally eat up and often hard feed rations can be reduced.
- Easy-to-handle bales
- Can be stored outside on a pallet
- Double-skinned bags to avoid puncturing
- Available nationwide
- Can seem expensive (but economical to use as there is less waste than other forages)
It is important to remember that every horse or pony should be fed as an individual and forage should be analysed and chosen according to its suitability for that animal.
For more information or advice on feeding your horse, please call the HorseHage Helpline on: 01803 527274 or visit www.horsehage.co.uk