Slow-feeding hay nets. Horses out on pasture will often spend over 14-hours grazing every day. Horses housed in stalls are fed two large meals each day with limited opportunity to forage.
Krishona Martinson is an extension equine specialist at the University of Minnesota. She has done research on slow-feeding hay nets, which mimic a horse’s natural grazing behavior. She studied how much time it took for horses to eat hay off the ground, versus hay nets with small, medium, and large openings. It took the horses about six-hours to eat hay off the ground, but 13-hours out of the net with a one-inch opening. Martinson says the extended eating time has tremendous health benefits.
“The biggest thing is, is that horses only produce saliva when they are chewing. And by allowing them to chew for 13-hours a day, they’re producing that saliva and we have less chances of ulcers and other adverse health effects just by extending their feeding time and not giving them more hay,” says Martinson.
This also reduces the chance of obesity, and even has psychological benefits. When horses take longer to eat, they’re not as bored. Horses looking for something to do often get into trouble by chewing on things, including other horse’s tails.
Martinson says all horse owners should have a slow-feeding net for their animals, but take it slow.
“We did observe some frustration, but the horses never gave up and they kept at it. And in fact, a lot of the hay net manufacturers that make those really small opening nets recommend stepping the horses down gradually,”says Martinson. “So start with that big 6″ net opening, and then go to the 1/3/4”, and then down to the 1”. Give them about a week on each just to get used to it.”
The benefits of Slow feeders for horsesfor your horse
A more natural approach to feeding that mimics grazing. Slow feeders are designed to let your horse get one or two slivers of hay at a time, so eating one flake can take hours and hours!
Can help to manage boredom and boredom associated vices, like cribbing. If your horse is munching all day, there’s much less time to eat fencing or crib on shelters and waterers.
Saves time and labor when feeding a barn full of horses. I would much rather have one large feeding in the morning or every couple of days than several times a day.
Minimizes mess, now huge piles to get mixed with bedding or earth. Every barn has those messy horses – who use their lunch as bedding and stir it in, wasting food and creating more to clean.
Slow feeders can decrease ulcers by stimulating stomach acid buffers all the time from all day saliva secretion. Saliva naturally buffers the hydrochloric acid that your horse’s stomach secretes all day long. Slow feeders allow this buffer to be produced for longer periods, thus potentially helping ulcers.
When horses eat their hay slowly, they’re healthier and happier.