(have I mentioned that in the last year she's installed security cameras in the barn/stalls, automatic (warmed) waterers and an automatic fly spray systems that keeps the property literally pest free??)
The current project that seems to have already started? Slow Feeders.
I've been fortunate enough to always have ponies who clean up their feed, but don't hoover it. This usually means that with a typical three meals a day, there are always whisps of food available for munching and snacking all day long, which (I hope) helps to keep the ulcers to a minimum.
For those of you not on the "natural lifestyle" bandwagon, the hype and movement behind slow feeders is to mimic natural grazing patterns for horses who are locked up in stalls, or turned out on dry paddocks with nothing to munch on (like Pia).
One solution (the easiest) for this problem is to just throw your horse LOTS AND LOTS OF HAY. This works for some (especially hard keepers), but most horses will eat more hay than they need to if they have truly unrestricted access. Not unlike me and my eating habits when I'm provided with a full box of crackers and a loaf of cheese.
In the wild, horses spend upwards of 60-80% of their time "grazing." however, they likely aren't just stuffing their faces full of perfectly manicured Kentucky bluegrass, but rather meandering around and foraging for sparse, low quality food. This would be like if I had to hunt for my crackers and actually make my own cheese... the effort would naturally inhibit the quantity of food consumed.
Essentially, slow feeders aim to be the solution for both of these issues. There are lots of designs, but most struggle to provide restricted access to feed, while allowing a snack to be constantly available.
Translation: The ponies have to work for it. and it takes them longer to shove their faces full.
If you've had the pleasure of studying for a pony club rating, or googling like mad to understand why your horse might be colicing, you already know that horses' stomachs are insanely small and they empty insanely quickly. To the extent that even a large meal (if devoured) is through the stomach within about an hour. That leaves behind lots of acid and bile to slowly create ulcers while your horse waits for you to toss him his next meal.
The BO is on a mission to create the perfect slow feeder to address a number of issues.
- A few horses bolt their feed and stand around cooking ulcers while they wait for their next meal.
- A good slow feeder would allow her to toss hay once a day and not be so tied to strict feeding schedules for the horses
- Aside from the physical comfort of not getting ulcers, a lot of horses show attitude changes, and less anxiety when they have (slowed) access to feed all day long.
The Horizontal feeders are essentially a box that you fill with hay, then top with a grate (usually with 2"x 2" openings) that the horses have to pull the hay through.
Vertical Feeders have a few different looks, but essentially you pile the hay through a shoot, and the horses access the hay through a grate on the side at the bottom. (think traditional hay chutes with a grate at the end).
The last category are your traditional hay nets and meshes, but with smaller openings. 1"x 1" can work with soft netting, but you can go as large as 2"x 2" depending on how aggressive your horse is.
Our BO is experimenting with the Vertical feeders, as our hay is stored in a loft and gets "tossed" to the horses at feed time. Horizontal boxes require that you remove the grate before filling, which is somewhat laborious and not very efficient for a barn full of these things.
The BO's first feeder has been built and is being tested on the same gentle giant who was enjoying his flying changes on Sunday... He typically bolts his feed and goes through LOTS of water in the process (thereby diluting his saliva and reducing his nutritional intake..).
The First prototype is a full sheet of 2"x 3" grating, with a slanted "slide" in the back that slants the hay forward toward the grate (so it can't hide in the back of the feeder away from nibbling lips).
Also, the whole contraption is hinged to allow for cleaning when needed. this design still allows the BO to toss hay from above, and keeps Mister Ruby busy and munching his three normal meals, but spaced out over 18 hours.
Ruby is still somewhat panicked that all his hay is trapped behind a fence and he isn't sure how exactly he's suppose to free it.
Has anyone constructed their own versions of these things? Any tips or tricks?
I'll be sure to post any updates and adjustments that the BO makes before the whole barn is outfitted...
In general though, I'm liking the idea, and eager to see what comes of it.