Everything You Need to Know About Feeding Haylage to Your Horses

When it comes to feeding horses, the type of forage you choose can have a significant impact on their health and well-being. Haylage, a fermented forage made from grasses, is often considered a better option compared to traditional hay. But why is that?

Haylage is made by wrapping high-quality grasses in plastic, which is then stored for a certain amount of time before being fed to horses. During the wrapping and storing process, the grass undergoes fermentation, resulting in improved preservation and increased nutrient content. This is because the fermentation process produces beneficial acidic compounds, such as lactic and acetic acids, while suppressing the growth of harmful bacteria like butyric acid-producing bacteria.

Feeding haylage to horses has many benefits. First and foremost, it provides a higher level of nutrition compared to hay. The fermentation process breaks down the plant fibers, making it easier for the horse to digest. This is especially important for horses with digestive issues or those that are prone to metabolic diseases. Additionally, haylage has a lower dust level, making it ideal for horses that suffer from respiratory problems.

Haylage is also a suitable choice for horses that are overweight or in need of restricted feeding. The fermentation process reduces the sugar and starch content of the forage, making it a better option for horses that need to watch their carbohydrate intake. However, it is important to remember that haylage still contains calories, so portion control is necessary.

Before incorporating haylage into your horse’s diet, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist. They can assess your horse’s specific needs and guide you on the appropriate amount of haylage to feed. Additionally, they can help you choose the right variety of haylage and ensure that it is of high quality.

In conclusion, haylage is a highly beneficial forage option for horses. Its improved nutrient content, lower dust level, and suitability for restricted feeding make it a better choice compared to traditional hay. However, it is important to consult with a veterinary professional before making any changes to your horse’s diet to ensure their health and well-being.

Understanding Haylage and Its Benefits

Haylage is a type of forage that is made by baling grass or alfalfa at a higher moisture content than traditional hay. It is often compared to hay, as they both serve as a source of long-stem fiber for horses. However, the key difference between the two lies in the way they are processed and stored.

Unlike hay, haylage is baled at a moisture level below what is needed for mold and dust to develop. This means that haylage is less likely to introduce respiratory issues in horses, making it a better option for those with sensitive airways. Additionally, the slightly higher moisture content in haylage allows it to retain more of its natural nutrients compared to hay, which can lose some of its nutritional value during the drying process.

Haylage is made through a process called anaerobic fermentation, which occurs when the bales are tightly wrapped in plastic. This creates an oxygen-restricted environment, which promotes the growth of beneficial lactic acid bacteria and inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria, such as the one that causes botulism. This makes haylage less likely to contain harmful bacteria and reduces the risk of horses contracting botulism. However, it is important to use plastic-wrapped bales that are in good condition to ensure that the anaerobic environment is maintained.

Feeding haylage to horses can have several benefits. The higher moisture content in haylage makes it easier for horses to chew and digest, particularly in older horses or those with dental issues. It can also be useful for horses or ponies that suffer from laminitic or other metabolic diseases, as the lower sugar content in haylage can help in managing their dietary needs.

When it comes to storing haylage, it’s important to find a spot that is well-ventilated and protects the bales from excess moisture. Plastic-wrapped bales should be stored slightly off the ground to prevent soil contact and potential contamination. Additionally, the amount of haylage required per horse will depend on several factors, including the horse’s weight, activity level, and access to other feed sources. It is best to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to determine the right amount of haylage for your horse’s specific needs.

Pros of Haylage:

  • Retains more natural nutrients compared to hay
  • Less likely to contain harmful bacteria
  • Easier for horses to chew and digest
  • Lower sugar content makes it suitable for horses with metabolic diseases

Cons of Haylage:

Cons of Haylage:

  • Requires tight plastic wrapping and careful storage to maintain anaerobic environment
  • Can be more expensive than hay
  • May not be suitable for all horses, particularly those with specific dietary needs

In conclusion, haylage is a valuable alternative to traditional hay for feeding horses. Its improved nutritional content, reduced risk of bacterial contamination, and easier digestibility make it a beneficial addition to a horse’s diet. However, proper storage and understanding of your horse’s specific needs is essential to ensure the best use of haylage as a feed source.

Pros and Cons of Feeding Hay

Feeding hay to horses has both advantages and disadvantages. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Pros:
  • – Hay is a traditional and familiar feed for horses, making it easy to find and use.
  • – Hay provides the horse with long chewing time, which is important for their digestive system.
  • – High-quality hay is highly nutritious and can provide a good source of energy for horses.
  • – Feeding hay allows for a variety of options, as there are many types of hays available.
  • – Hay is a low-cost option compared to some other feeds.
  • – Hay can be stored for long periods, allowing you to have a consistent feed source throughout the year.
  • – Hay can be fed to horses in a variety of ways, such as in a hay net or on the ground.
  • Cons:
  • – Hay can vary greatly in its nutritional value depending on its quality and processing methods.
  • – Hays that have been stored for several months or in less-than-ideal conditions may have lost some of their nutritional value.
  • – Feeding hay that has been wilted or contaminated with mold or dust can lead to health issues for horses.
  • – Older horses or those with dental problems may have difficulty chewing and digesting hay effectively.
  • – Hays that have been fermented or are high in butyric acid can have a strong odor that may be unappetizing to horses.
  • – Feeding hay in the barn can result in higher ammonia levels, which can be harmful to horse health.
  • – Hay may not provide enough dietary omega-3 fatty acids, which can be important for overall horse health.
  • – Overweight horses or those with metabolic issues may need to have their hay intake restricted.
  • – Hay may not be suitable for horses with particular health conditions, such as insulin resistance or laminitis.
  • – Feeding hay may attract pests or birds to the barn.

Remember, when feeding hay to your horse, it’s important to consider the type and quality of the hay, the horse’s specific dietary needs, and any specific health conditions they may have. If you have any questions or concerns, it’s always best to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist.

Feeding Hay to Horses

When it comes to feeding horses, hay is one of the most important dietary sources. Horses are natural grazers and need access to a variety of forage to maintain a healthy digestive system. Hay is a convenient and easily accessible option that can be provided throughout the year.

There are two main types of hay that you can provide to your horses: high-quality hay and haylage. High-quality hay is made from dried grasses or legumes and has a moisture content below 20%. It is typically harvested before the plant matures and has a golden color. Haylage, on the other hand, is a form of fermented forage that has a higher moisture content (around 40-60%). It is made by baling the forage whilst it is slightly wilted and then wrapping it tightly in plastic to create an airtight seal.

The Pros:

  • Hay is a natural feed that most horses are familiar with and enjoy eating.
  • It provides a variety of nutrients and can meet the dietary needs of horses.
  • Hay is easily digestible and can be processed by the horse’s digestive system without causing any issues.
  • Feeding hay allows horses to engage in their natural feeding behaviors, such as grazing and chewing.
  • Hay can be stored for months and used as a reliable source of feed throughout the year.

The Cons:

  • Hay can contain moulds if not stored properly, which can lead to respiratory issues or other health problems.
  • It may not have the same level of nutrition as other feeds, such as grains or supplements.
  • Hay can be bulky and take up a lot of space in the barn.
  • Hay may have a higher sugar content compared to haylage, which is not suitable for horses that are prone to laminitis or other metabolic diseases.

Feeding Tips:

  • Make sure the hay is of good quality, with no signs of mould or dust.
  • Provide enough hay to meet the horse’s daily requirements, which is generally about 1.5-2% of their body weight.
  • If your horse is overweight and needs to be restricted, consider using hay nets or slow feeders to control the amount they consume.
  • Remember to offer fresh water at all times, as hay can be dry.
  • Keep an eye out for any changes in your horse’s health or behavior when feeding hay, and consult a veterinarian if needed.

Overall, feeding hay to horses is an important part of their diet and must be done with care. Choosing the right type of hay, storing it properly, and providing the correct amount are all essential for maintaining your horse’s health and performance. Whether you opt for high-quality hay or haylage, ensuring a balanced diet and good management practices will keep your horse in tip-top shape.

Written by Harris Golden, Equine Science Expert

The Digestive System of Horses

In order to understand the importance of feeding haylage to horses, it is crucial to have a basic understanding of their digestive system. Horses are herbivores and have a unique digestive system that is designed to efficiently break down fibrous plant material.

Digestive Process:

Digestive Process:

The first step in the digestive process is mastication, where horses chew their food to reduce its size and increase its surface area. Unlike birds, which have a gizzard to aid in digestion, horses rely on their teeth for grinding and breaking down food.

Once the food is chewed, it travels to the stomach where it is mixed with digestive enzymes and acids. The stomach of a horse is relatively small compared to other animals such as cattle, which requires horses to have a more frequent feeding schedule.

From the stomach, the food moves into the small intestine where a majority of the nutrient absorption takes place. The small intestine is relatively short in horses, which means they require a constant supply of nutrients in order to meet their metabolic needs.

After the small intestine, the food enters the large intestine where fermentation occurs. This is where a horse’s unique digestive system shines, as they are able to digest fibrous plant materials that other animals cannot. The large intestine is home to millions of microorganisms that break down the fibrous plant material and release nutrients that can be absorbed by the horse.

Feeding Haylage:

Now that we understand how a horse’s digestive system works, let’s examine why haylage is such an ideal feed for them. Haylage is a type of forage feed that is made from wilted grasses that are then wrapped in plastic. This process creates an anaerobic environment, preventing mould growth and preserving the nutritional value of the forage.

One of the key advantages of feeding haylage is its high moisture content. Horses naturally have a low thirst drive and relying solely on dry hay can lead to dehydration. By feeding haylage, you can help ensure that your horse is adequately hydrated.

In addition, haylage is highly digestible and provides a variety of nutrients that are essential for a horse’s overall health and well-being. Some of these nutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

It’s important to note that haylage should be fed in moderation, as feeding too much can lead to digestive issues such as colic. Horses should have access to haylage for restricted periods of time, while also having access to other sources of forage.

Advantages and Disadvantages:

Pros Cons
Highly nutritious Requires careful storage and handling
Helps prevent dehydration Can contribute to metabolic issues if fed in excess
Improved palatability compared to dry hay Plastic-wrapped bales can be more expensive than traditional hay

In conclusion, haylage can be a valuable addition to your horse’s diet, as long as it is fed in the correct amount and within a balanced feeding program. It provides a highly digestible and nutrient-rich feed that is ideal for horses of all ages. So, if you’re considering feeding haylage to your horses, be sure to choose a high-quality product and carefully consider the nutritional needs of your individual horses.

Comparing Hay and Haylage

When it comes to choosing the right forage for your horse, you may find yourself comparing hay and haylage. Both hay and haylage are forms of preserved forages that provide essential nutrition for horses. However, there are some key differences between the two.


Hay is a traditional form of preserved forage that has been used for centuries. It is made by cutting and drying grasses or legumes such as alfalfa before baling them. The drying process removes moisture, which helps to prevent spoilage and the growth of bacteria. Hay is typically baled in large, rectangular bales that are easy to handle and store.

One of the main advantages of hay is its relatively low sugar content. This makes it a suitable option for horses that are prone to metabolic disorders or those on restricted diets. Hay also tends to be less dusty compared to some haylage, making it a good choice for horses with respiratory issues.

However, hay does have some drawbacks. The drying process can result in a loss of some nutrients, particularly vitamins and volatile fatty acids. Hay may also be slightly less palatable compared to haylage, depending on the type and quality of the forage. Additionally, it can become moldy or dusty if not stored properly.



Haylage, on the other hand, is a fermented forage that is wrapped in plastic soon after the grass is cut. Unlike hay, haylage retains more moisture, which allows the grass to ferment anaerobically. This fermentation process results in the production of lactic acid, which helps to preserve the forage and maintain its nutritional value.

Haylage is typically baled in smaller, round bales or packaged in individual bags. It has a sweet, slightly sour smell and a golden color, which are indications of proper fermentation. Haylage is often considered more palatable than hay, making it an ideal choice for picky eaters or horses with higher nutritional requirements.

One of the main advantages of haylage is its higher nutritional content. The fermentation process increases the digestibility of the forage, allowing horses to extract more energy from it. Haylage also tends to have a higher moisture content, which can be beneficial for horses that need additional hydration. However, haylage may not be suitable for horses that are overweight or prone to certain metabolic issues.

Overall, both hay and haylage have their pros and cons. When choosing between the two, it’s important to consider your horse’s specific needs, dietary requirements, and any existing health conditions. Consulting with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist can help you make the best decision for your horse’s well-being.

Choosing Between Hay and Haylage

When it comes to feeding your horses, one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is whether to use hay or haylage. Both options have their pros and cons, so it’s important to understand the differences before making a choice.

Hay is the traditional choice and has been used for centuries to feed horses. It is made by cutting grass or other forages when they are mature, drying it in the sun, and then baling it for storage. The resulting bales can be stored in a barn or another suitable location to keep them dry and free from moulds and other contaminants.

Haylage, on the other hand, is a more modern option that involves storing the forage in a slightly different way. The grass or other forages are cut when they are slightly more mature and have a higher sugar content. The forage is then chopped into smaller pieces and wrapped in plastic to create airtight bales. This wrapping process, known as ensiling, preserves the forage and allows it to ferment, resulting in a feed that is higher in moisture and has a slightly different nutrient profile compared to hay.

So, how do you decide which is best for your horse? The answer depends on a few factors. For horses with certain dietary requirements, such as older horses or those with dental issues, haylage can be easier to chew and digest. The higher moisture content of haylage also makes it a good option for horses that require a more hydrated diet. Additionally, haylage can provide some additional benefits for horses that suffer from certain respiratory conditions, as the fermentation process can help reduce dust and mold.

However, there are some potential drawbacks to consider as well. Because haylage has a higher moisture content, it can be more prone to spoiling if not stored properly. The plastic wrapping can also be easily damaged, allowing air to enter and spoil the feed. Haylage can also be more expensive than hay, particularly if you need to purchase specialized equipment for wrapping and storing the bales. Finally, haylage can pose a risk of botulism, which is a potentially serious disease in horses.

On the other hand, hay offers its own set of advantages. It is easy to store and can be kept for longer periods without spoiling. Hay can also be less expensive and more readily available than haylage. Additionally, because it is not wrapped in plastic, hay does not have the same risk of botulism contamination. However, hay may not provide the same level of moisture and hydration as haylage, which can be important for some horses.

In the end, the choice between hay and haylage will depend on your horse’s specific needs and your own preferences. Both forages can be valuable sources of nutrition, so it’s important to consider the pros and cons and make an informed decision based on what’s best for your horse.


What is the difference between hay and haylage?

Hay is typically dried grass that is cut and baled, while haylage is a fermented forage made from partially dried grass.

When should I feed haylage to my horse?

Haylage is usually fed to horses that have difficulty chewing or digesting dry hay, or for horses that need a higher level of moisture in their diet.

What are the pros and cons of feeding hay to horses?

The pros of feeding hay to horses include providing them with a source of fiber, helping to keep them warm in the winter, and providing mental stimulation. The cons include the possibility of dust and mold, and the need for storage space.

Is haylage a good option for laminitic horses or ponies?

Yes, haylage can be a good option for laminitic horses or ponies because it has a lower sugar content than hay, which can help to reduce the risk of laminitis.

How should I feed haylage to my horse?

Haylage should be fed in small, frequent meals to horses, and should be stored in a cool, dry place to maintain its freshness.

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