Many horse owners are not really sure what good haylage should look like. In this post we will attempt to explain some of the common attributes and markers of good haylage.


Before you open the bale

First things first, before opening the bale, inspect the plastic wrap. The wrap should be in good condition, and not overly faded. You can check this by peeling a bit of the wrap back and seeing if it is a different colour underneath. If it is faded, it suggest the bale has spent a long time in the sun and the wrap may have started to go porous and let oxygen in.

There should be plenty of layers of wrap. The plastic used for wrapping bales is not actually 100% air tight. Each layer of wrap reduces the porosity by about 50%. So 6 layers of wrap will let half as much air in as 4 layers, and 8 layers will let half as much in again. We always suggest using 8 layers for the best protection and sealing.

There should also be no visible tears or ‘repairs’ to the bale. Black tape will not seal the bale up again if it has been punctured. Never accept a bale where the wrap has been obviously damaged unless it was only damaged very recently.

What the haylage should look like

The haylage should be a bright golden colour. A dark or brown colour indicates excessive heating causing material to caramalise. This reduces the digestibility of the protein even though the horses may eat it up.

Lots of dark brown leaves / stems indicates dead material that was incorporated into the crop. This can be left over from a previous crop or could be a result of the crop being over mature when harvested. As long as the rest of the haylage looks and smells ok, this is generally not a problem apart from the visual impact.

There should be no moulds or other growth on the haylage. This will indicate that there was insufficient lactic acid produced to preserve the haylage, or the wrap has been damaged. Never, ever feed a bale that has any coloured moulds growing on it.

White spots that do not smell may be yeast. Yeast may grow slowly on haylage that had high levels of sugar in it. It can also grow where there was a pocket of oxygen in the haylage or if the haylage was inadequately pressed failing to remove all the oxygen. This is because yeast can grow both aerobically and anaerobically. Generally, yeast is not bad for horses, but frequent occurrences of it on bales would suggest a deeper problem.

What the haylage should smell like

There should certainly not be an putrid or rancid smells from the haylage. Putrid smells would indicate the presence of butyric acid from Clostridium bacteria and horses will not eat it. This occurs mainly when the haylage is made to wet and there is insufficient lactic acid produced to preserve the haylage.

Yeasty bread, alcoholic or fruity smells indicate the presence of yeast growth. If you can smell it there is probably too much yeast growth and fermentation will have suffered.

Vinegar odours will suggest an excess of acetic acid. This is the result of a different type of fermentation when there was a lack of lactic acid producing bacteria. Horses will generally not eat this and we wouldn’t recommend trying to feed it.

Burnt odours indicate excessive heating took place and there was something serious wrong with the fermentation process that occurred.

What the haylage should feel like

Haylage should not be hot to touch – it should be at ambient air temperature. If it is warm to touch it is either still going through fermentation or it is aerobically respiring (ie. rotting).

The haylage should be soft and clean to the touch and perhaps slightly sticky – if it is slimey and wet to touch it was baled too wet and probably has not fermented properly.

The pH should be around 5 (ie slightly acidic because of the presence of the preserving lactic acid). If it is very acidic it will probably be unpalatable to horses.