Is haylage good for horses?
- To be on the safe side, NOPE. Also, the names are sometimes interchangeable with silage, so it can get a bit confusing. This is because some parts of the world consider haylage and silage fermented, while other parts of the world consider only silage fermented.
- There are many horses in Europe that eat haylage – but their definition of haylage and percent of moisture when baled might be different.
Super confusing – haylage, silage, neither, both? I’ll try and sort it out for you.
- Remember the fantastic article I did about how hay is made? Well, let’s carry that a bit further. Hay can be baled into squares or rectangles when it is somewhere between 10 and 20% moisture. This varies according to climate, how tight and big the bales are, what type of grass, etc.
- If the cut grass is baled with higher moisture content, it can become haylage. Usually, when the grass is 50-60% moisture, it will be baled, usually into round bales.
Right now these are just bales. If they are super wet and sealed up in plastic, they become haylage/silage in a few weeks.
- So now we have a wet ball of hay. Turns out, the best thing to do is seal it in plastic. Airtight. The wet-ish hay and lack of air will ferment the hay inside.
- The acids made during this fermentation preserve the hay. Eventually, like after a few weeks, the acids create an environment where the microbial fermentation stops. This is the ensiling process.
Ever heard of silage? Well, the same process as haylage, but with more moisture. This is where the definitions start to get fuzzy between regions.
- So haylage seems super fantastic, right? Sure, right up until the point that a bird or rodent is either trapped in the plastic or pokes a hole in the plastic. If the unlucky critter is inside the bale, there will be a pocket of rotten critter which contaminates the bale. This can also happen with soil, manure, or other pasture weirdnesses. If a critter pokes a hole in the plastic covering, the air can create a pocket of mold and toxins – like botulism.
- Botulism is deadly to horses (read more about it here) and can easily happen in haylage and silage. If the moisture levels are not right, or the outer plastic wrap is damaged, or there’s some sort of creature becoming a fermented hay mummy inside, the hay becomes too dangerous to feed to horses. Really not worth the risk.
- Ruminants, like cows, goats, and sheep are fine with eating haylage and silage.
Round bales: better than haylage for horses, but not as good as square bales.
- Now – I seem to remember that some feed companies are now chopping up hay and bagging it. Some manufacturers call it chaff hay – and it may or may not be fermented. If it is, you still have to worry about damage to the bag, and once opened, you better feed it all fairly quickly. This is definitely a time to read the dang label and follow the instructions.
So – in summary… don’t feed haylage or silage to your horse. Probably.