How hay bags and slow feeders affect horses

Different setups for feeding hay to horses in stalls showed different results in horses' eating habits and general behavior.

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Winter is almost here, and that means that the grass in your horse’s pasture is almost gone, if not completely depleted already.

Most horses require supplemental forage for at least part of the year, and for most, that comes in the form of hay. Hay can be fed in round bales, delivered in piles in the field, or placed in a stack of a few flakes in the corner of the stall.

Horse Eating Hay

Some horse owners opt to use hay feeders, nets, or bags to serve hay to equine diners. There are some obvious advantages, such as keeping hay off the ground where it can get dirty or mixed in with bedding. Some horses waste a lot of hay if they move around in their stalls and a feeder can prevent that. For horses on restricted diets or who are on stall rest, using a slow feeder can make a meal last longer, thereby reducing boredom.

Researchers in France looked at how using slow feeders and hay bags affected horses compared with feeding them hay loose on the ground. Their subjects were 38 horses observed in their own stalls.

Throughout the study, the horses were observed in three different feeding situations: hay on the ground (their usual feeding arrangement); hay bags hung on the stall wall; and hay in a slow feeder in the corner of the stall. All of the horses were observed in each of the three situations, administered in random order for three weeks at a time.

Both types of hay containers increased the amount of time horses spent eating their hay compared with receiving it on the ground, suggesting that they are a good way to prolong feeding time in stabled horses. However, the hay bag was also associated with an increase in what the researchers call “frustration behaviors.”

On the other hand, when horses were fed using the slow feeders, they showed a decrease in undesirable behaviors, such as stable vices. They also displayed increased friendliness toward humans.

“Hay-bags” and “Slow feeders”: Testing their impact on horse behaviour and welfare

Rochais, C et al. Applied Animal Behaviour Science
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.09.019


Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. She just bought a small-hole hay net and she’ll let you know how it works out. www.lesliepotterphoto.com

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Leslie Potter
Leslie Potter is a graduate of William Woods University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Equestrian Science with a concentration in saddle seat riding and a minor in Journalism/Mass Communications. She is currently a writer and photographer in Lexington, KY.Potter worked as a barn manager and riding instructor and was a freelance reporter and photographer for the Horsemen's Yankee Pedlar and Saddle Horse Report before moving to Lexington to join Horse Illustrated as Web Editor from 2008 to 2019. Her current equestrian pursuits include being a grown-up lesson kid at an eventing barn and trail riding with her senior Morgan gelding, Snoopy.

5 COMMENTS

  1. As CEO of Freedom Feeder slow feed nets, I want to thank you for posting this article. Since 2007, I have witnessed horses using our slow feed nets drastically change their demeanor in some manner because the small mesh so beautifully mimics natural grazing. They actually opt to eat from the nets vs any loose hay on the ground because is it more instinctual for them to have hay available 24/7 and to take small bites. The more people we can reach about using slow feed systems, the happier and healthier our horses will be.

  2. I’d like to know what kind of slow feeder is appropriate. I have heard negative feedback from veterinarians and equine dentists on slow feeders with metal mesh (and metal hay racks), regarding the damage they can do to teeth. It’e especially a problem with homemade DIY slow feeders, I think.

  3. I have read several places that the nylon rope slow feeders over time damage some horses teeth. I believe with this article there should be more information. What style of nets are best, how to choose the size of holes that are appropriate for horses.

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