Whether you’re a Handy Hay Nets newbie or a long-time supporter of our slow feeding system, you’ve probably noticed there are a rather intimidating amount of hay nets to choose from. Even for the seasoned slow feeding veteran, it can be difficult to choose a hay bag system that will work best for your farm.
Most people consider slow feeding to be a one-size-fits-all concept. We have discovered, however, that there are a great variety of factors to consider when choosing the right system for your animal. The age of your critters, the time of year, and the coarseness of your hay, all have an influence on how comfortable your horse can self-regulate their own hay consumption.
If you find your animals are trashing their bags, gobbling hay, or continue to have weight problems, then you may want to reevaluate your hay and netting combinations.
Slow-feeder hay nets differ from traditional hay nets because the new nets generally have smaller holes through which horses can pull only small wisps of hay in each bite. It takes longer to eat a given amount of hay with a slow-feeder net, keeping the horses entertained longer, reducing the time they have nothing to nibble, and smoothing out their glycemic response to hay consumption.
What size should the holes in the net be? Too small, and the horses won’t be able to get any hay at all, thus suffering hunger and frustration. Too large, and they will gobble the hay quickly, negating the purpose of the net. Holes of the perfect size will allow nibbling rather than gobbling.
A study conducted at the University of Minnesota looked at the speed of consumption when horses were given hay at the rate of 1% of body weight in different presentations. The hay was fed either loose on the ground or in nets with holes measuring 15.2 cm (6 in), 4.4 cm (1.75 in), or 3.2 cm ( 1.25 in) wide.
Horses consuming hay from the ground or the net with the largest openings ate at about the same rate, approximately 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) per hour. Horses eating from nets with the smaller openings consumed hay at a much slower rate—only about 0.88 kg (1.93 lb) per hour for the net with the smallest openings—and some horses were not able to finish their hay within four hours.
The optimal size of slow-feeder net holes has yet to be determined, and it’s likely that the right size will be different for small-muzzled ponies than for larger horses. Type and quality of hay may be another important factor, as fine, leafy hay will be easier to pull through the holes than stemmy, overmature hay. Finally, some horses will probably work harder than others to get the hay out of the net. The only certain conclusion is that using a slow-feeder net with moderately small openings is an effective way to make hay last longer, more closely matching the normal rate of equine forage consumption.