Haylage (pronounced "hay - ledge") is not something that horse owners hear about very often. Many of us have heard the term silage, but don't really understand what it is. Well, haylage is just a type of silage, that's made of grasses and legumes (hay stuffs) and ensiled. Most often, people associate the term silage with a "wetter" product, while haylage is the step between silage and hay (in terms of drying).
The problem with haylage is that if not ensiled correctly, the product can spoil, and carry bacteria that is very bad for your horse (or other livestock, since this is a horse blog, I'll jut talk about horses). This is why we're always told not to feed our horses lawn clippings. Once they wilt (the first part of the haylage process) the forage is susceptible to bacterial growth.
The benefits of haylage though, is that the product contains many of the amino acids, proteins, and other "good stuff" that makes our horses look so amazing on a fresh green grass pasture, and the act of partial fermentation (the wilting process) tends to have some nutritional benefits. So there's the conundrum: do you go for the amazing nutrition and risk the possibility of food poisoning?
The answer for me, is yes. You see, haylage is no longer an "art" but rather a science. This means that a company who invests in the proper tools can consistently produce haylage that is safe for horses. Things like cutting the hay no shorter then 2.5 inches, and preventing mole infestations can prevent botulism, and owning the proper (and expensive) equipment to handle the bales with out disturbing the plastic wrapping (thus preventing spoilage) are relatively simple to do. Basically, if the farm is set up to specifically make haylage, then the chances are that the product is good.
And so, I use Chaffhaye. Because the haylage is produced in 50 pound bags, it allows the company to easily handle and control the product. The time from cut to wrap is quick, and their packaging is strong, which helps prevent accidental punctures. After knowing someone else who had used it, I felt safe in offering it to my horses.
Now, there are other companies that offer haylage products, but since I have no experience with their products, I can't testify as to their quality, but Chaffhaye is good stuff! (For those of you wondering, no, I was not paid to write this, I just happen to like sharing knowledge about products that can make a horse owner's life easier.)
Low Sugar content:
So lets get down to the important part. What is it that makes haylage so good? Well, as I mentioned before, you know how great your horses look when they have access to rich lush grass? You know how much you worry about them foundering on it? Imagine if you could have the best of both! Yep, that's what haylage gives you.
The problem with lush spring grasses is that they are rich in sugars. Oh yeah, there's plenty of vitamins and minerals in there too, but the sugars can lead to so many problems. From joint issues in growing babies to founder, sugar really isn't a horse's best friend. The process of fermentation requires sugars to feed the bacteria and yeast which do the fermenting, though, which means that haylage has less sugar.
Chaffhaye spritzes the forage with molasses (and yep, you can smell it) in order to start the fermentation process. Now, with a few tablespoons of molasses per 50 pound bag, the amount of sugar is negligible (it's similar to using molasses to get your horse to take medicines). But here's the kicker, that bacteria needs "go juice' in order to divide, multiple, and ferment. That "go juice' is sugar. The molasses starts it, and the sugars in the grass continue the process.
Think of this like starting a fire. Sure, wood burns, but getting it to light isn't always that easy. You have to reach a certain point before the wood actually catches, so many people go the easy route and add lighter fluid. The lighter fluid catches, burns quickly, but also allows the temperature to get hot enough to ignite the wood, and thus that camp fire burns merrily. The same thing works with Chaffhaye's molasses. The molasses jump starts the bacteria, which allows it to get going in high gear, and when it runs out, it turns to the plant matter for it's food/fuel source, thus "eating" the sugar before the horse can have an issue with it.
Well yes I did, and no it isn't. You see, here's a little known fact, cellulose is not digestible by animals. No known vertebrate has the natural enzymes to break it down into something useful. Yet horses eat plant matter, which has a cell wall made of cellulose!
This is because horses have a symbiotic relationship with many beneficial bacteria in their guts. The bacteria gets an easy life (the horse has to find all the food!) and plenty to eat, and the horse gets to use the plant matter it's just snarfed up. We're starting to realize this, and most horse owners have heard about "probiotics" and how good they are for a horse. Many feeds now have probiotics included.
These probiotics are basically just colonies of live beneficial bacteria kept in a substrate (paste, powder) that keeps the bacteria alive. Think of it like a petri dish in a tube or powder.
Unfortunately, because of the way many horses are fed and kept in this modern world (limited turn out, grain multiple times a day, work loads that cause stress and alter the internal pH, etc) horses don't always keep their own guts healthy. Now, many of you are thinking, "well I don't have to worry about that, my horse is on pasture all year long!" but sadly, you're still affected.
You see, even on a nice sized pasture, horses are still limited. They can't just meander over to the next county for some good munchies. They have a fence around them, and that does limit what they have access to. Our grain products, while they keep the weight up, many alter the pH of the intestines ever so slightly. Our hay is sprayed and fertilized, and that too alters the pH. Our enjoyment of riding takes the horse off it's diet for a period of time, and then sloshes stomach acids around in their guts. Now, none of this is BAD (it's actually rather good for them in the long run) but it does cause some changes on their insides that we don't always think about.
And so, we add good bacteria back into their guts to help them break down the food matter we provide them with. All those pH changes kill some bacteria, all those restrictions inhibit others, and a nice influx of healthy vibrant bacteria helps the horse use what we pay to feed them. In the end, it works out.
But haylage is already partially broken down. The initial job of that bacteria is to crack the cell walls and allow the horse's intestines to digest the good stuff inside. Well, if it's already broken when it enters their mouths (or fermented, depending upon what mental image you prefer) then the good bacteria can just eat the broken bits, while the horse has ready access to the internal bits. Both parts of the symbiotic relationship win out. And, the bacteria that just broke down the cellulose in the bag... yeah, it's ingested too, replenishing the intestinal population of beneficial bacteria.
In the 1970s, it was believed that protein should be limited in a growing horse's diet to prevent joint issues. Well, we have now learned that it's not the protein which is at fault, but certain carbohydrates. Instead, feeding young horses between 16-18% protein is a good thing, and makes for good bones. But those protein numbers are so confusing!
Chaffhaye has 9% protein, which seems low, until you realize that all the moisture reduces that number. If it were a dry grain, it would have about 19% protein! Now, that's on the high side for protein, but we're back to the water reducing the effects. What does this mean for the horse owner though? Good strong healthy horses. The horse has enough protein to build muscles (including the ever elusive top line) and joints, and even keep all the internal organs functioning properly.
Chaffhaye also is made of alfalfa, so it has plenty of calcium for good strong bones (and calcium also happens to act as a buffering agent on the stomach acids, thus reducing ulcer problems). Alfalfa happens to have more "bang" per pound, which is why so many modern feeds are made with an alfalfa base. Plus, horses happen to like the taste of it.
And then there are the minerals!
I have to admit that I cheated here. I had started typing up a long list that made even my dorky eyes bleed, and then I stumbled upon this image from the horse feeding blog. A big delete, copy, paste, and citation (see that link there, yeah, check out that page, it rocks) and my darling readers don't have to deal with quite as much educational spam from me.
Now to also prevent your eyes from bleeding, here's the nutritional information for Chaffhaye.
So, many of our horses end up deficient in some areas. Growing foals mostly have a problem with lysine (a limiting factor in growth) while aged horses often have problems with calcium uptake (not using all they are fed). Depending upon where the horse lives, other minerals can be big issues as well.
One thing that is often overlooked in a horse's diet are the essential fatty acids. Things like the omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are just naturally taken up by horses in their plant based diets. This hit home to me with the 2011 droughts. I had my horses' nutritional numbers all worked out, and by the books it should have worked great, and yet my horses all looked kinda "bleh". Their coats just weren't shiny, and that last bit of weight would never stick. After 10 months on "drought rations" I was pulling my hair out trying to figure it out, and then I read a study on fats in a horse's diet. A single line about the use of omega fatty acids for skin and hair jumped out at me. So I was off to the research, and it turns out, hay alternatives are normally weak in fatty acids.
This is because the act of drying out plant matter also destroys those fatty acids. While it makes the nutrient more readily available for the horses, they end up missing a small but crucial thing in their diets, and their overall condition shows it. Omega fatty acids come from green wet plants. Hay has some fatty acids in it, but it's very minimal, and processed feeds have almost none. So, living on a diet of beet pulp, alfalfa cubes, and complete (alfalfa based) feed pellets, my horses were deficient. I ran to the grocery store, and must have looked like I had a strange fetish, and purchased multiple gallons of soy oil. 1/4 cup per horse, per day, was enough to replenish the natural oils my horses needed (and it's a nice caloric boost as well). Of course, I figured this out just as the fall rains began again. The new grasses growing in my pasture helped replace the deficiency.
But chaffhaye and other haylage has those essential oils in it. Because it is still high in moisture, and is made from a green plant product, it's high in omega fatty acids. If I ever get caught in a drought again, I won't have to worry about oils in the diet, because my hay source (chaffhaye) will have more then enough to keep the horses shiny, and their coats vibrant.
Having dealt with the droughts here in Texas last year (2011) I learned a few things. Now, for those who don't remember, let me explain what happened. Around March, the rains stopped. This was before most farmers got a good first cutting, so naturally panic ensued. The North East was getting rained on so badly they had trouble harvesting, and other parts of the country were alternately experiencing drought and overly wet conditions. This means that hay just didn't exist. My own farm turned into a sand box, and IF I could find hay, I wasn't really sure I wanted to risk feeding it to my horses. The sides of roads were being baled - weeds, garbage, and all - and those round bales were sold for the lovely price of $130 each.
So naturally, I went to the alternatives. Beet pulp was my friend (it was hot, I soaked it to help with hydration). The long stem fibers also help keep the gut moving, and push out sand. It wasn't perfect though, because you can't give horses beet pulp free choice in 110 degree heat. The stuff ferments, and drunk hot ponies are no fun. And so I added in a complete feed.
Now, while complete feeds are supposed to be complete, they aren't perfect. The ideal "long stem fiber" length is 12mm, and you just can't fit that in a pellet. This means that the horses want to chew on things, and so often times trees and wood gets chewed on. Chaffhaye has fibers that length or longer, and of a consistency similar to grass. This means that not only do your horses get the satisfaction of actually chewing their meals, but the longer fibers also help to push out sand from their guts.
Sand is one of the things that people overlook so often. Living on sandy loam soil, it's a constant worry for me. We add Sand Clear to the horses every month to help, but the best way to keep a horse from a sand colic is with plenty of long stem forage. Now, this is one place where Chaffhaye takes a bit of a hit.
Since the haylage is chopped up to increase the fermentation process and create a more consistent product, the fibers aren't as long as they are in conventional dried hay. The longer the fibers, the more it works like a broom in the horse's guts to push out sand. Because there are many lumps, bumps, and wonky bends in an intestine, the sand has many places to hide. The longer the fibers, the more crevaces it can reach into.
So, I deal with that by offering the horses some hay each week. It doesn't take much, just a flake of good grass hay with nice long blades, and the sand goes away. Because the chaffhaye has all those probiotics in it, the horses don't have gas issues from the change in diet (hence few if any colic problems). I also don't have to worry about the nutrition in the hay nearly as much, since it's just being used as a "gut sweeper". Of course, clean and weed free is important, but protein levels and such aren't as big of a concern.
How it looks on a horse:
Now, if you're wondering what got me started on this, well lets just say that I have some horses that are harder keepers, and I have been doing some rehabilitation of a few horses. Since pictures are worth a thousand words, I want to show a comparison.
Here's Moon, a lovely paint mare that we took in during the drought of 2011. She was fed on alfalfa based complete feeds(15 pounds of 12% protein, 8% fat), and 10 pounds of beet pulp with 2 ounces of mineral salt a day. (split into 4 feedings)
When we picked her up:
Now you can see that she was improving, but still has a long way to go. (For the record, this mare is a bit fat today, and recovered very nicely).
Compare that progress to Darwin, the Percheron stallion we just picked up. Here he is a day after we got him:
Darwin's diet? 1/3rd bag of Chaffehaye, and 6 pounds of a 12% protein, 8% fat alflafa based pellet, plus mineral salt (2 ounces per day). That's less the half the grain that Moon got, in fewer feedings (Darwin gets grain twice a day, and Chaffhaye for "lunch"). The cost of the diet is less too. While the Chaffhaye does cost more then beet pulp (less feedings per bag) the reduction in grain makes the overall cost of his diet much lower.
Here's a break down of the cost. Chaffhaye costs between $12.00 and $14.00 (USD) per bag (depending upon the dealer). So lets use an average of $13.00. My grain costs $0.24 per pound. The cost of the minerals is negligible, and equivalent between the 2, so I won't even make my head hurt trying to do that math!
So Darwin gets 6 pounds of grain. In one week, that's 42 pounds of grain. Total cost: $10.08 per week.
Moon got 15 pounds of grain per day. In a week that's 105 pounds, which costs $25.20.
Darwin gets 1/3rd bag of Chaffhaye, at 13 dollars per bag, for 7 days: $30.35
Moon got 10 pounds of beet pulp, at 16 dollars per (40 pound) bag, for 7 days: $28.00.
Total cost to refeed a skinny horse -
Darwin (Percheron on grain and Chaffhaye): $40.43
Moon (Paint mare on grain and beet pulp): $53.20
Total cost per month -
Those horses that live on pasture much of the year don't really need grains. They do best on forage only diets, but the pasture doesn't always provide me with low cost food for them. In the summer we have a period where the grass goes dormant from the heat, and another in the middle of winter where the cold prevents growth. During those times, I can either put every one on hay and grain (because hay rarely has enough nutrients to support pregnant mares, growing foals, and horses in work) or I can simply put out chaffhaye.
See, that's another benefit. Chaffhaye, or any haylage, is safe to feed free choice, because it's a true forage. In some rare cases it may be too rich (such as my foundered mare) for free choice feeding, and other horses refuse to stop eating it, so have to be moderated, but pulling off a handful of horses in a herd this size is pretty much to be expected for any type of feed program. Sadly, there is no "one feed fits all" out there.
I have 2 young colts, Scorch and Rico, who are currently eating nothing but chaffhaye with a mineral/salt lick. These boys are packing on the muscle (and growing again even though they are 3 and 5 years old). And how much do they eat in a day? Less then 1 bag for the pair. In 24 hours, they eat about 2/3rds of a bag, and the best part is that they will actually walk away from the feeder. When offered a round bale, these boys do nothing but eat and eat, and didn't have the same condition that they do now, so I had to add grain to their diets.
This is because of the reduction of Non Structural Carbohydrates (NSC) in their diet. NSCs are basically the flowers and fruits of the plant while SCs (Structural Carbohydrates) are the stems and leaves. Horses are meant to eat the SCs, and not the NSCs naturally, but there's more calories (and less money) in feeding NSC type feeds (think oats, corn, etc). The horses feel content, and not stuffed, and so when asked to work they are happy to do so. Just think about Thanksgiving dinner. How much do YOU want to get out and run a lap around the property when you're that stuffed. You might get cranky? horses are no different.
Now, add to it, that the nutrients from SCs are more easily used by the body. So think about a child on a sugar high after Halloween. Oh sure, they have plenty of energy, but it's not exactly controllable. They run and scream and overreact to just about everything, until they wear out. Once the sugar high is gone, they are wasted, and have no additional energy to use. This is how horses feel when fed NSCs. The quick and easy calories they have are mostly from carbs, and while they burn hotter, they also are used up faster. Proteins and fats offer a most lasting energy, with less exhaustion afterward.
So overall, after just over a month on Chaffhaye, I'm seeing dramatic differences in my horses minds, as well as their bodies.
So why does it matter what I think?
So, knowing what I know, and seeing what people feed their horses - usually thinking they are doing the best they can - when my Chaffhaye dealer asked for my professional opinion of the product, I told her "It's good". She asked "yeah, but how good" and I said that wasn't a simple answer. Rather then making her eyes glaze over, and listening to her brain explode (the usual response I get when I dork out on something I'm passionate about) I decided it was a worthy topic for my blog.
And so here we are!
I'm not some out of touch scientist sitting in a lab looking at just the numbers. I'm a horse breeder, trainer, saleswoman, and lover. I am hands on with the horses every day, and my personal goals are to pay forward to kindnesses that I was shown when I started out in horses. Who knows, maybe this simple blog will help out some family in a drought stricken area, or someone whose best friend just won't keep the weight on, or someone looking for a way to get more for their horses, but fighting the economy and pinching pennies....
I have the education to actually "get" what all those weird numbers mean. I know how this stuff works on the inside of the horse. If I can make it make sense in some small way, and maybe dispel a few myths and help a few horses? Why wouldn't I?
Needless to say, I probably won't be buying a whole lot of "real" hay anymore. Since Chaffhaye has the production abilities to keep this product flowing consistently, and the cost is equivalent or less (depending upon the season) to that of "real" hay, and I can get it locally, plus I know that my horses are getting consistent nutrition that I can count on, well, I just think that's a better deal then I can get anywhere else.