Dr Andrew Clarke & Doriemus
Veterinary surgeon at the Royal Veterinary College in London.
For the last 25 years, James Sutton (MRCVS) has been the Head of the Veterinary Team at the world-renowned Horse of the Year Show which takes place in the UK every October. Highly respected in his field, Mr. Sutton has a wealth of experience in equine care and nutrition. He recently spoke to Silage Insights about his views on the use of haylage in the equestrian world.
Since qualifying as a veterinary surgeon from the Royal Veterinary College, London in 1976, Mr. Sutton has witnessed a huge growth in the use of haylage. We asked him why he thought this growth has come about.
Mr. Sutton said: "Before haylage came on the scene, there were some horse yards which fed silage because of its superior nutritional value and lack of dust. However, there were risks in doing this - particularly with botulism. This bacterium can be introduced to silage through the ground or a carcass, and in the right fermentation conditions, it spread throughout a silage bale. Whereas the digestive systems of cattle breaks this down, this is not the case for horses and the infection can be fatal. "In one yard where I worked, botulism in silage killed six horses.
"Happily, since then, the farming industry has developed the techniques for producing haylage. Haylage is drier than silage, so there's less chance of poor fermentation. Also, manufacturers today are very careful about not getting any contamination from the ground, and growing the right varieties of grass."
Mr. Sutton sees the high nutritional content of haylage as a major reason for its rising popularity. Haylage is left in the field to dry for longer than silage, but it is not allowed to dry out like hay. It, therefore, retains greater levels of energy than hay – around 25-50% more depending on local conditions.
In particular, James recommends haylage for high performance horses: "The increased energy content in haylage makes it an ideal feed for competition horses, where trainers are usually trying to get as much energy into them as possible. For racehorses and performance horses - such as the ones we see competing here at Horse of the Year Show - energy can be a limiting factor, which is why so many are fed haylage.
Indeed, only haylage is supplied at the Horse of the Year Show, an annual competition involving 1,600 horses at which James is Head Veterinarian. Due to the fire risk, no hay or straw are allowed in the 752 stables and the on-site suppliers offer only haylage and Easibed bedding.
Health and respiration
Haylage particularly comes into its own as an effective horse feed during periods of travel where ventilation is poor. Mr. Sutton says: "Spores from hay can aggravate the respiratory system, particularly in a closed environment. When horses are transported on planes and boats, only haylage should be used.
"Horses travelling long distances are susceptible to shipping fever, which is a type of pneumonia. This is mainly caused by them not being able to lower their head to allow mucous to run out down their nose, so it goes into the lungs instead. Spores from hay would be an added stress in these circumstances."
Mr. Sutton also notes that respiratory systems in horses can also decline with age: "Many horses, particularly when they are older can develop an allergy to the dust in hay, so haylage is a good option for them. Whilst some people soak hay to try and reduce the spores, which can be a physical irritant, this has to be done for three hours for the spores to swell large enough so that they become too large to enter the narrow airways of the lungs."
Furthermore, people with limited storage space, will often opt for haylage because it is easy to store, and less messy than hay to use. This is often the case for owners with one horse.
James concludes: "Although we see many fads in the feeding of supplements, haylage will always have an important place in providing a dust free, easy to handle source of fibre that has excellent nutritional properties. As well as serving as an effective an energy booster, haylage is very palatable for most horses. In fact, to make them eat it slower it has to be fed in haynets with small holes!"
James Sutton qualified as a veterinary surgeon at the Royal Veterinary College in London in 1976. After working in Buckinghamshire for two years he joined the family partnership in Tunbridge Wells. Here he and two other vets work full time on horses.
James's specialty has taken him around the world, vetting horses for clients and attending shows. He has a post graduate Certificate in Equine Practice and has been a referee on the Joint Measurement Board. He has been the FEI veterinary delegate at the British Open show jumping championships since its start and has been on the panel, head of the veterinary team and an FEI delegate at the Horse of the Year Show for 25 years.