Monday, February 21, 2011

Next on the List? Slow Feeders...

As I mentioned in my post about our (stunning) tack room at the barn, the BO doesn't sit idle for long. So with the tack room "done," she took a whole day off before starting another venture.

(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.
  1. A few horses bolt their feed and stand around cooking ulcers while they wait for their next meal.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
There are three main "types" of slow feeders that you can create. Horizontal box feeders, vertical box feeders, and nets or meshes.

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.

The concern is apparent on his big adorable face. Though somehow, Ruby still managed to empty the whole feeder... so apparently, he isn't that worried.

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.


  1. Yes, please keep posting updates. I am very interested in the concept since our horses are turned out on dry lot with three feedings a day. Sometimes they scarf everything in nothing flat and sometimes they leave it scattered on the ground. I love this solution.

  2. I use slow feed hay nets in my stalls and double bagged slow feed hay nets when my boys are out in the pasture. One boy is a hoover and the other is a waster, this solution has made the waste virtually nil and they can eat on their 3 flakes of dinner hay for 4-5 hours and pasture hay for 12+ hours. I bought my hay nets at Chicks saddlery but they don't sell them anymore.
    I reference this website a good bit, they have some good info I am looking forward to the ideas you BO comes up with, I am always looking for new ideas to try out!

  3. I feed my pastured ponies out of mesh bags. My biggest issue with them is when they get pushed through poo the horses don't want to eat out of them anymore, I've also lost two bags to the ether. When I get my own place I'm going to make boxes to put the bags in, that way they won't lose them or drag them through poo.

    I've heard of people having issues with grates when the horses figure out how to get them off. I'm also really wary of making my horses eat around metal since they already figure out very creative ways to hurt themselves without my help.

    Your BO might also want to look into Freedom Feeders,

  4. I'm of the mindset that there is no such thing as too much hay, but I also believe in 24/7 turn out. Slow feeders are a great solution for stalled horses.

  5. Dude. I want to be at your barn.

  6. You do Andrea, it's beautiful!

    I have a nibble net if your BO wants to borrow it to see what she things. I might hold it hostage until that baby is born, then bring it over ;0)

  7. I just started using the "Freedom Feeder" about two weeks ago. We started giving my gelding hay on the ground and in the net and now he just gets hay in the net. He seems to actually sort of enjoy it, when he had to chose between the ground and the net he'd often choose the net. I have it hanging at below his head level, but not quite on the ground. He's currently on a round of GastroGard for ulcers that were causing all sorts of issues and I'm really hoping to avoid another month of the GastroGard by trying to address the feeding issues.
    I like the idea of a more permanent solution, the Freedom Feeder is spendy for what is basically some netting, and also I imagine it will eventually fall apart...

  8. Whoa. I am liking the Freedom Feeder. Thanks for the post topic, because this looks like something worth looking into!

  9. I feed my guys out of small mesh hay nets. They are out for about 18 hours/day, but grazing is sparse and I supplement with hay, both in the pasture and when they are up at night. Each net holds 8-10 lbs of hay, and if they don't clean everything up I will supplement with a flake or two of "easy" hay in a tub to make sure they are getting enough lbs of forage daily. While the nets are a bit of a pain to fill, there is almost no waste and they have hay available at all times. My hard keeper looks good and my air fern isn't fat.

    One funny thing - I have one red net and one green one. The boys ALWAYS empty the green net first, regardless of where I hang the nets. Has anyone else had this experience, where horses show a color preference?

  10. That is too cool. I've never seen the vertical versions. I'm interested in an update. :)

  11. That sounds really interesting. I want updates! This sounds like something that would be perfect for Rose.

  12. paddock paradise IS a great resource.. :)

    The first prototype is already down, and BO is looking at solutions that will hold a full bale (similar to the freedom feeder)..

    It is a great barn, and I'm sure P can't wait till she gets to trial one of these bad boys..


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