can foals eat haylage

Can Foals Actually Eat Haylage? The Real Lowdown

As a farmer in Nebraska, nothing gets me more excited than seeing my baby horses grow up happy and healthy.

Last spring, my little pal Comet just wasn’t her cheerful self and I started getting worried.

That’s when my neighbor Joe, who’s been ranching for longer than I’ve been alive, gave me some advice about haylage that totally transformed Comet around.

Haylage 101: The Good, The Bad and The Digestsble

Unlike a city slicker, you probably know hay is just grass or alfalfa that’s cut and dried for livestock to eat in the winter months. But haylage is a whole other ball game, buddy.

In simple terms, haylage is basically hay that’s been baled or tossed in piles before it fully dries out, then packed tight in an air tight space like a silo or wrapped in plastic.

This fermentation process helps preserve more of the nutrients, energy and protein from the original plant. It also makes the feed more digestible for young or sensitive stomachs.

The benefits of haylage are that it retains 70-80% of the original dry matter and nutritive value compared to regular hay which loses around 30-40% during sun drying and baling. Plus the anaerobic fermentation breaks down some of the cell walls to allow for better absorption.

On the flip side, you gotta be careful baled haylage doesn’t get moldy or dusty from too much moisture or poor wrap quality, which could cause respiratory issues if eaten. It’s also extra important baled haylage gets stored in an adequately sized silo or wrapped bales don’t get squished under their own weight and squeezed of nutrients and oxygen over time.

It requires special equipment for bagging and handling, which is an investment. But for us cattle folk raising youngins, the improved digestibility just may be worth it in the long run for our calves and foals.

That’s the basic lowdown on haylage from an old ranch hand like me. In summary, if stored right, fermented haylage retains more nutrients for little tummies to absorb compared to plain hay. Whether it’s worth the effort versus regular hay depends on your operation and animal’s needs. For Comet, it was a total game changer.

How Haylage Transformed My Li’l Pony

can foals eat haylage

Ever since she was a newborn foal, lil Comet had never been the picture of health like her stablemates. She was always on the skinnier side and her coat never shone like the others come springtime.

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Being a first time horse mom, I was worried sick about my girl. I tried supplementing her milk meals with extra oats and sweet feed but nothing seemed to stick. Comet stayed lanky and lethargic even after turning out to frolic in the pasture.

Desperate to get my filly feeling frisky, I begged Joe for suggestions when he stopped by for coffee one morning. Between sips, he told me straight – ditch the dry hay and try haylage. According to Joe, the fermented feed was easier for young’uns to digest than stalks of grass hay.

It made total sense since Comet’s tummy had always been on the sensitive side. I grabbed a bale of haylage straight from Joe’s silo to swap out half her hay ration slow and steady. Within days, I noticed a change in my girl.

Comet’s eyes shone bright and her stance stood proud with energy. Her hip bones disappeared under a plush winter coat. Best of all, she acted like the frisky filly I’d always dreamed of rather than a sickly sack of bones. I was absolutely smitten with my renewed pony.

Some folks swear manure analysis is the true test of a diet’s success. Well, let me tell you – Comet’s family jewels glistened like golden nuggets, which I took as a very good sign indeed. Thanks to Joe’s haylage wisdom, my filly finally felt like a true horse should.

Feeding Foals Haylage Right

can foals eat haylage

Now that haylage has worked its magic on my farm, folks often ask how best to transition baby horses onto the fermented feed.

The number one rule is go slow, amigos. Just like introducing any new food, you don’t want to shock little tummies used to plain grass hay. I start foals on 75% hay, 25% haylage for the first week to let their systems adjust.

Gradually swapping more haylage in over 2-4 weeks lets their microbes build up for proper digestion. Going straight 50/50 too fast is asking for belly aches and the runs, if you know what I mean.

Quality is also key since digestibility relies on intact nutrition from storage. I only use silage baled at peak nutrients with no visible mold growth or dust. Come weaning, increased haylage maintains appropriate growth rates.

Since foal tummies hold less grub than adults, small, frequent meals work best to keep energy levels steady versus one big pile cleaned fast. Maybe 4-5 mini meals per day divided haylage and quality grass hay is my personal preference.

Add small amounts of beet pulp, oats or calf manna as needed if babies look thin or aren’t putting on proper pounds. But come spring grass, haylage alone keeps my youngsters coat shiny without extra calories usually.

With some trial and error per horse’s needs, finding the perfect haylage ration makes all the difference come weaning time. Healthy foals grow into sound, happy horses, and that’s what it’s all about in my book.

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Haylage’s Nutritional Perks for Foals

can foals eat haylage

Compared to plain ol’ hay, haylage packs more important vitamins and minerals growing foals need like A, D, and E.

The fermentation process helps release naturally occurring nutrients from the original grass or alfalfa into forms baby bellies can better absorb.

Carotenoids like beta-carotene provide antioxidant support in haylage versus fading during sun exposure like dry hay.

Crude protein levels stay 5-10% higher too, supplying extra nitrogen baby bodies use to build strong muscles and bones.

Come weaning time, this heightened nutrition explains why my haylage-fed foals reach target sizes and weights earlier versus peers solely on dry feed.

Even into their first winter, a haylage diet keeps metabolism humming versus muscle and weight loss sometimes seen on dry hay through cold months.

So while extra upfront costs exist, improved nutrient intake from haylage helps baby horses stay healthy naturally without costly supplements down the road usually.

Haylage Makes Digestion a Breeze for Foals

Along with concentrated nutrients, haylage’s fermentation process breaks down plant cell walls into smaller, gentler fractions.

This pre digestion in the silo or bale spares baby stomachs the rough work of full cellulose degradation themselves.

Fiber like cellulose and hemicellulose soften into simpler sugars prototypes like glucose, fructose, and lactic acid easily absorbed.

Protein too breaks apart into simpler, less allergenic peptides versus large undigested proteins conceivable from hay triggering upset.

The end results are quicker digestive transit times, less gut inflammation worries, and maximized intake of calories and vitamins absorbed versus excreted undigested.

Come weaning onto grain concentrates, haylage-adjusted foals make smoother transitions versus sharp dietary shifts possible on grass hay alone.

All in all, fermented haylage spares tender young stomachs considerable stress for smoother sailing into independent adulthood diets.

Haylage Means Less Feed Waste Too

Beyond its nutritional perks, haylage offers strategic feeding advantages over loose hay come growing time too.

Namely, fermented hay bales don’t blow away or get trampled into mud puddles versus loose hay piles at the mercy of elements.

Foals can chomp haylage bricks anywhere versus needing clear, flat feeding areas safe from hooves or curious nostrils digging elsewhere.

Less waste means more nutrients consumed versus discarded back to soil or manure, further boosting return on feed dollars.

Come rainy or snowy seasons, haylage stays fresher and cleaner indoors versus dusty, moldy hay piles requiring replacement sooner usually.

Proper silage storage in Ag bags allows indoor or covered outdoor haylage self-feeders year-round regardless weather too.

So for maximizing consumption and minimizing waste, haylage gains an efficiency edge over traditional grass hay feeding come certain climates.

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Haylage Supports Sustainable Farming Principles

Being good stewards of the land means maintaining efficiency and sustainability wherever feasible.

Haylage production aligns with reducing food miles by utilizing local forage crops versus trucking in hay from farther away sometimes.

It recycles nutrients back into soil from fermented manure versus shipping carbon off premises like dry hay operations transporting manure dumping responsibilities elsewhere.

Less waste also lightens pollution loads from excess bedding or runoff versus loose hay yards leeching more into watersheds.

Storing forage as haylage preserves nutrient-dense silage for livestock feed year-round instead of depending total grain imports off-farm come winter months.

So for small farmers aspiring carbon neutral footprints, grass-based haylage production promotes environmental stewardship alongside profitability objectives usually.

Not every operation can achieve silage, but where soil and climate allow, haylage upholds sustainable food production values for generations to come ideally.

Common Haylage Myths Debunked by this Rancher

With any alternative feedstock, skeptics inevitably spread misinformation prohibiting some from reaping haylage’s rewards.

Top myths I’ve come across include haylage poisoning livestock if moldy somehow, despite proven preservation when stored right.

Rumors silage ruins soil nutrients get tossed around too, despite nutrient recycling ensuring soil nourishment versus depletion actually.

Not enough energy density or protein gets preached often as well, despite proven higher nutrient retention and digestibility versus dry hay.

Costliness scares some alone, but long term economics factoring reduced wasted feed and supplements usually more than offsets upfront storage investments.

Haylage’s reputation as something tainted spreading disease arouses others, despite centuries of European dairy farmers proving its safety when baled and stored properly.

As with any livestock operation, quality control is key. But fearmongering over haylage spreads what this old cowboy considers darn falsehoods in my professional viewpoint, amigos!

So in Summary: Haylage is A-Ok for Foals

After seeing Comet thrive on fermented haylage, I’m a total believer this nontraditional feed has its place in baby horse diets, city slickers. It preserved nutrients better than plain grass hay for Comet’s sensitive tummy.

While cost and storage are factors, the improved digestibility from haylage was worth it to get my frail filly feeling frisky as her stablemates. So don’t hesitate, friends – transition foals slow and steady onto quality haylage if regular hay isn’t cutting it.

Next spring, come on down to my spread outside Omaha and see for yourself how my haylage-fed horses shine.

I’ll gladly share my tried and true methods over a cold beer on the porch. Until then – happy feeding and keep me posted how your foals fare!


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