The most natural feeding position for a horse is from the ground. You can leave loose hay on the ground for the horse to feed on, although a good deal of it may be trampled on and soiled, essentially wasting it. The easiest way to feed hay is with a hay net or hayrack. Divide the horse’s daily ration into four roughly equal amounts. Give them at regular intervals, with one first thing in the morning and one at the end of the night. When you receive a load of hay, keep it separate. Start to feed it gradually over several days, mixing the new hay in with the old. The horse’s digestive system can then adjust to the new hay slowly.
A hay bale will break easily into equal flakes, so you can estimate how much you are using. It is useful to weigh one bale from a new batch, in order to figure out the weight of each flake. Once you’ve completed this step, you can begin filling the hay net. Hay nets that are made from synthetic twine are ideal because they do not rot, therefore lasting longer. However, cotton rope ones will give way easier in case of an emergency. Loosen the drawstring to open the net, and then push the hay inside it. Shaking the net will loosen the hay and make it easier for the horse to feed. Weigh the net on a spring balance to ensure a constant level of feeding. A hay net filled with flakes of hay straight from the bale will contain much more than one filled with loose hay.
Hay contains microscopic fungal spores that can trigger respiratory problems. A simple measure for preventing these problems is soaking the hay before feeding. Some of the dust and spores in hay can be washed away by soaking it. Spores also stick to wet hay and are less easily breathed in by the horse. Saturate the hay in running water for about two hours; do not let this go on any longer or you will run the risk of washing out nutrients.
Tying a Hay Net
- Pull the opening of the hay net shut, and then thread the loop of cord through a ring on a wall, a tree, or other suitable location. Whether it is being hung up in the stable or outdoors, a hay net must be hung well and clear of the ground; the ring should be just above the horse’s eyes.
- Pull the net up, and then thread the cord through the bottom. This will help compact the net when you tie it up; it also keeps it off the ground when it has been emptied. Tuck the remaining cord inside the net so that it is not left hanging. The net will hang down lower when it is empty, and a horse could possibly get a foot caught in it, leading to injury.
- Pull the cord tight, bringing the bottom of the net up as high as you can. Tie the cord tightly at the top, using a quick-release knot. Make sure that the loop isn’t too small. Finally, turn the hay net around so that the knot is hidden from the horse.
When you have finished, the hay net should be eye level with the horse when it is standing naturally. If the net is lower, the horse may trap its foot in it. If it is higher, dust and seeds can fall into the horse’s eyes as it eats.
A hayrack may cost considerably more to install than a ring for a hay net, but it is easier to fill than a net, and the hay never ends up on the ground. The only drawback is that you cannot adjust the height for different horses.
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