September's enews from Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr, Independent Equine Nutritionist. Feed Focus, Q&A, Research snippets and more... 

Finally, there was lots of forage harvesting in August; quite a relief for most horse owners. The price of hay and haylage was theoretically rocketing, but now it should be back to normal and there should be a plentiful supply this winter. Hay and haylage will typically be either very nutritious (made in late May) or rather less nutritious and high fibre (made in August, rather than June/July as is usual).
Having just moved offices within the same building, I now have a view of our pasture and can literally see the grass growing! Watch out with all this rain and sun that your leisure horses and good doers don’t lay down too much fat. I can’t see my two riding horses because they are shut in their pens daytime with low cal forage, and strip grazed overnight, in order to control their waistlines!
This month will see me getting going on some development work within my own business, as well as regular consultancy work, some lecturing and I also have a few days of riding across the Welsh mountains with my youngster and a good friend and her horse to look forward to. I’ll take pictures and report back on our stamina levels and how they measure up!
Have a fulfilling month, and enjoy your horses.

Research snippet: Colic Risk Factors
At the International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology (ICEEP) Interim meeting “Winning Ways” in June 2012 at Aintree, Professor Chris Proudman gave a lecture on ‘Feeding the performance horse without increasing the risk of colic”. In key points, Prof Proudman concluded that diet is likely to be a major risk factor for colic, that a high level of concentrate feed (over 2.5 kg or 5.5 lb daily) and dietary changes are risk factors for colic, that seasonal patterns are evident (probably due to dietary, management or exercise changes) and that predictable changes in bacterial populations in the large intestine are associated with feeding concentrate and with colic.

Feed focus
Haylage is this month’s focus, considering there has been much making of it in August, and because it’s almost time to start considering your horses’ winter forage. Hay and haylage are preserved grass, which is fed throughout winter when grass availability is too low and/or horses are housed or in pens, off the pasture.
The difficulty in making hay that is hygienically clean i.e. low in dust and mould spores, has prompted farmers to turn to making haylage. It is often a more reliable crop considering our lack of long periods of dry sunny weather, crucial to make good horse hay. Haylage is made from grass that is cut and turned just like hay, but then before it is fully dried, it is baled and wrapped in several layers of airtight plastic. Naturally occurring bacteria on the grass ferment the grass sugars and fructan, producing compounds that preserve the forage so long as it remains airtight. Once opened, haylage will keep for between 3 and 7 days, depending on its moisture content and the amount of fermentation is has undergone, and the air temperature.
Haylage is usually very palatable and is ideal for stabled horses due to the absence of dust and low mould spore content, compared to hay. It is ideal for horses with recurrent airway obstruction (RAO, used to be called COPD). It is usually – but not always – more nutritious than hay, but nowadays a wide range of haylage is available, from relatively high fibre and moderately low energy to high energy. Some haylage is lower in energy and protein than some hay, so don’t assume it’s always more nutritious! Well made haylage is lower in sugar than early cut, well made hay, because the fermentation process turns the sugar into volatile fatty acids.
You need to feed an equivalent volume of haylage as hay, i.e. more in weight. Haylage contains more moisture than hay so each kilo supplies less actual forage, and less fibre than a hay with the same fibre content per kilo of dry matter. Hay is typically about 15% moisture whereas haylage is typically about 35% moisture.
 More skill is required to make haylage rather than hay, and it should never be made from hay that has been rained on and has been cut and on the ground for over a week. The bales should be dense and wrapped tightly to exclude air. Some manufacturers make large bales, then after fermentation repack into smaller, 20 kg packs. Punctured bales should never be fed. For a good haylage for horses, look for a high dry matter of over 55% (but ideally not over 75%), a low pH of under 5.5 (6 is acceptable if alongside a high dry matter), a higher lactic acid than butyric or acetic acid, low ammonia (less than 10 kg total nitrogen per kg), no soil contamination and a high fibre of over 30%.
For more about haylage and other forages for horses, see Clare’s book ‘The Truth About Feeding your Horse’ at

If you have any friends who would be interested in Clare's Health and Nutrition enews, please feel free to forward this message onto them. Don't forget to submit your Nutrition and Feeding Questions to Clare ( with 'enews question' in the subject box and it may be picked out of the bag for inclusion in a future enews Q&A. Thank you for your interest.

Thanks to EH Haylage, Norfolk, for the picture of haylage bales.

Quote of the month: 

It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver” Mahatma Gandhi.

September's Practical Tip

Forage for an allergic horse: If your horse is allergic to hay and coughs (has recurrent airway obstruction or RAO, which used to be called COPD), but is not a good doer, then soak your hay for no longer than 20 minutes; enough to get the dust dampened and any mould spores swelled (so they are swallowed rather than inhaled) but not so long as to lose energy and protein. Alternatively, consider feeding haylage instead, which is baled whilst still damp, so contains less mould spores and no dust. As explained in the Feed Focus section, feed the same volume of haylage as hay (i.e. more weight) because more of the weight of hayage is water. Take care that your horse’s neighbour’s forage isn’t just through the bars, because this could be enough to cause an allergenic response in your horse. Take care with your choice of bedding and always muck out with your horse outside the stable.


Please email with ‘Enews question’ in the subject box if you would like to have your question answered by Clare. Thanks to Wendy for this month's question; one that many horse owners would like to ask.

Is ragwort really a threat to horses?
Q: My friend is concerned about the possible potential danger or threat of ragwort in the field. Are some horses immune to it? Will they naturally know it's not good for them and leave it alone?
A: Thanks for a really good question. Ragwort in the field is a real danger to horses, and no horse is immune to it. Horses do not naturally know it’s bad for them, although it is very unpalatable when fresh and growing, so that's why you'll see horses in fields with ragwort who are still alive. BUT! Horses will not leave ragwort alone if there is hardly anything else to eat i.e. the grass is well eaten down because there isn't enough or because the owner is purposely restricting the area of grazing available to a good doer. Horses will eat ragwort that has fallen or been cut and died (includes ragwort in hay) because it becomes palatable when dead. Leaving ragwort to seed in the field is irresponsible and also illegal, because this spreads it, increases the risk of horses eating it, and also increases the risk of it spreading into pasture that is cut for hay. Ragwort in hay is lethal, and many horse deaths result annually. Ragwort should always be dug out including the roots, and either burned or placed in black bags and put in the bin. It is a real and serious danger to horses.

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