Manuka Lucerne haylage is a type of conserved forage. Instead of leaving the harvest to dry before baling, as would be done for hay, it is left to wilt and then collected, wrapped tightly in plastic and left to undergo a process of anaerobic (without oxygen) fermentation. During this process the plant's non-structural carbohydrates (starch, water soluble sugars) are converted to organic acids, hence the characteristic smell! The resultant lower pH prevents the growth of spoilage micro-organisms.
Haylage has a higher moisture content than hay, and as such we cannot compare hay with haylage on a weight-by-weight basis. (Think potato chip vs potato crisp). The higher moisture content also helps to keep your horse hydrated as the retained moisture acts as a reservoir for your horse.
Lucerne haylage has a low sugar and starch content due to the fermentation process. This makes it great for horses and ponies in need of low-starch diets such as those prone to or suffering from laminitis, horses that tie up, or are affected by insulin resistance.
Haylage is higher in energy and nutrients than hay. Not only are more nutrients retained during processing, haylage is also better digested across the digestive tract than hay. Thus more of the nutrients can be released from the plant structure in the small intestine and by microbes in the hind gut. These nutrients are then absorbed by the body and fewer are passed out as manure. This not only makes it useful product for performance horses but also for more mature horses requiring a softer product.
Lucerne haylage has a very good amino acid profile (building blocks of protein) and the protein is well digested. This makes it an excellent source of quality protein for muscle building.
Like Lucerne hay, Lucerne haylage has a high level of calcium. This is beneficial for horses grazing on high oxalate containing pastures (eg. kikuyu) and pastures that are naturally high in phosphorous (eg. Dairy-type pasture). The high levels of calcium combined with the saliva produced during chewing also help to protect horses from gastric ulcers.
Hygiene is important when using and storing haylage. This is because when opened the aerobic environment potentially allows spoilage micro-organisms to grow. Once open store haylage in a way to reduce the amount of air in the packaging and use according to guidelines.
When introducing haylage to your horse or pony start by introducing a small amount on the first day and then gradually increasing the quantity daily over a period of 7-14 days. Remember, you need to give the hind-gut microbes adequate time to adapt to the new feed.
Horses are hard-wired to eat and are referred to as "trickle grazers". Free-ranging horses will graze or forage for around 10-15 hours per day (some up to 18 hours) with foraging behaviour spread over 10-15 individual feed bouts.