Traditionally hay has been the stable alternative to pasture and when more digestible energy is required to meet the increasing demands of performance horses the amount of hay decreases and the quantity of grain or concentrate increases. This practice, whilst traditional, is known to create health issues for horses in the form of gastric ulcers, hindgut acidosis, tying up and colic. But is there a "healthy" alternative? The healthy alternative is Manuka Haylage - a fermented Lucerne product that provides a superior source of digestible energy compared to traditional hays and chaff. The capacity for haylage to provide high levels of digestible energy is due to its greater digestibility and enhanced production of "energy substrates" during hind gut fermentation.

Digestibility

Feed products that a more highly digested provide greater nutritional value to the horse, and research in performance horses and ponies has shown haylage to be 1.5 times more digestible than traditional hay or chaff. The higher digestibility of haylage is likely due to a number of factors. Firstly, haylage crops tend to be cut earlier than crops used for hay. The young, leafy swards will have higher nutritional value, lower cellulose and lignin content, and lower dry matter content than hay. Secondly, the microbial fermentation that occurs during the ensiling process "softens" the cell wall fraction of the plant allowing greater digestibility and making the cell contents more available for digestion.

Hind Gut Fermentation

The hind gut of the horse, comprised of the caecum and colon, can be considered as a large fermentation vat. Microbial fermentation in the hind gut produces VFAs (volatile fatty acids) which are utilised by the body as a source of energy. VFA production is a significant contributor to a horse's energy metabolism and under healthy conditions will provide about 70% of the horse's energy supplies, the remainder coming from digestion in the small intestine. It is well understood that the dynamics of microbial organisms in the hind gut and consequently VFAs production is greatly affected both positively and negatively by diet. Research has shown that haylage positively affects hind gut microbial dynamics, effectively acting as a pre-biotic. Consequently, an abundance of "healthy" microbes develops and VFA production increases. The end result is a greater concentration of energy-yielding substrates available for use by the horse. For information on how to include Manuka Haylage in your horse's diet to boost energy levels and facilitate a healthy hind gut contact Manuka Chaff Pty Ltd Equine Nutrition Consultant on 0432 636 842.

Further reading:

Moore-Colyer, M.J.S., Hyslop, J.J., Longland, A.C. and Cuddeford, D. (2000) Intra-caecal fermentation parameters in ponies fed botanically diverse fibre-based diets. Animal Feed Science and Technology [online] 84(3-4): pp.183-197.
Moore-Colyer, M.J.S. and Longland, A.C. (2000) Intakes and in vivo apparent digestibilities of four types of conserved grass forage by ponies. Animal Science 71: pp.527-534.
Moore-Colyer, M.J.S., Hyslop, J.J., Longland, A.C. and Cuddeford, D. (2002) The mobile bag technique as a method for determining the degradation of four botanically diverse feedstuffs in the small intestine and total digestive tract of ponies. British Journal of Nutrition 88: pp.729-740.
Muller, C.E. (2012) Equine digestion of diets based on haylage harvested at different plant maturities. Animal Feed Science and Technology [online] 177: pp.65-74.
Murray, J.M.D., Longland, A., Hastie, P.M., Moore-Colyer, M. and Dunnett, C. (2008) The nutritive value of sugar beet pulp-substituted lucerne for equids. Animal Feed Science and Technology 140: pp.110-124.
Ragnarsson, S. and Lindberg, J. (2010a) Impact of feeding level on digestibility of a haylage-only diet in Icelandic horses. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition [online] 94(5): pp.623-627.
Waldron, L.A., Thomas, D.G. and Pryor, I. (2012) Digestion characteristics of two forms of preserved lucerne forage fed to mature horses. Journal of Applied Animal Nutrition [online] 1(1): pp.1-4.

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