Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Slow Feeders... v2.0

True to form, the BO has evolved her slow feeder design already in an attempt to produce the perfect combination of restricted access and constant forage...

Contestant #2 is R - a super fancy, super adorable (somewhat broken) KWPN who is currently on round 3 of resting a torn ligament (heart breaking).  That leaves Mr. R lots of time to sit in his stall and play with a slow feeder.  His model is designed to hold a full bale, and is made int he "horizontal" fashion, which makes loading a full bale easier, but loses convenience of the BO being able to "toss" hay from the loft.

Though, I'm not sure she'd be tossing bales down anyway...

The idea is to give about a 3-4 day supply of hay, and allow the horse to maintain a mostly natural headset while snacking.

So, here it is.  R was suspicious of me snapping pictures and immediate came to inspect whether or not I had any treats to offer...
Camera Focus Fail
You can see the feeder is shoved up in a corner..but it is still a sizable piece of furniture for a stall.  That may be ok in the BO's gorgeous 14x14 stalls that have big runs, but might not be the most efficient use of space for ponies in smaller quarters...
The grate floats loosely under the lid of the box, so that as the hay level goes down, the grate pushes down with it, always resting on top of the remaining hay.

R took to the feeder immediately and started nibbling and nosing the grate extracting his supper stem by stem. Though he was constantly nibbling and snacking, the full bale seemed to stay too compressed for easy eating.  To remedy that, when filling the box, the BO started "fluffing" the flakes to make them slightly more accessible.  The process isn't too labor intensive, but it does mean that the convenience of just tossing a bale into the box isn't relevant, so the next version of feeder will likely be the same style, but a triangle shape nestled into the corner of a stall to save on space.  It won't hold a full bale, but it should still accommodate more than a day of hay when filled to the top.

Other modifications on the docket include a chicken wire bottom, so that little extra bits can fall out of the feeder, instead of old hay slowly piling up and rotting.

Aside from that, the box construction and lids are super safe, firmly latched and seem as horse proof as possible.. though even typing that statement tempts fate a bit.

The BO and I did discuss the unintended consequences of going to things like automatic waterers and slow feeders.

She was discussing how much she used to learn just from standing in front of stalls and filling buckets.  Even just 20 seconds of standing at staring, you can notice a lot.  Has that horse been rest his right hind all day? hmm, the poop looks different, that mare looks more lethargic than normal.. no shavings in that tail, hay not cleaned up.. blanket looks loose, etc.

Obviously these are all things that we tend to notice anyway, but it's interesting how many things your brain can observe when standing still and just staring at a stall for a few seconds, as opposed to jogging by it as you go to turn out horses.

I have every confidence in the care at my barn, and I know that the BO has a great eye and those horses get more observation time than most, but it's an interesting philosophy to consider.  Sometimes doing things manually allows you to absorb information you would otherwise miss. Thankfully our crew goes out of their way to still get that info.  But somethings would be hard to stay on top of, even with diligent checking.

Take for example, a full bale slow feeder.  Last fall we ended up with a chunk of our hay being "off."  It wasn't moldy, smelled fine, not dusty, etc.  But about 3/4 horses who were fed  from a neighboring set of bales got the runs and were out of commission for a few days.  Although more horses were exposed, the symptoms were obvious and correlated directly with who was getting fed from what hay bales.  The problem was fixed right  away.  Inside horses needed new hay, the horses who slept outside were fine, because they hadn't gotten any of the contaminated hay in their outside hay shed...

Consider what would happen if a bad bale in it's entirety was shoved in a slow feeder.  No other horses would be eating from it, and any symptoms could potentially emerge in only one horse.  My brain goes through different diagnostics if one horse appears sick, than if many do... It's not rocket science, but it is different than the "flake tossing" mentality that happens many times a day.  Also, if P ignores a meal, I know about it at at most 12 hours later (dinner --> breakfast).  Given a slow feeder, that hint of being off her feed would be less noticeable over a short time window...

What do you guys think? Even with meticulous checks, can you fully replace the awareness and observations made from casual horse care?


  1. Excellent points. As much as it is a pain in bad weather to feed three times a day, it does give us the opportunity to see who is eating, how they like the hay, etc. It's good to have a reason to go check on everyone. Although on a cold windy wet night those feeders are sure tempting.

  2. I love the idea of the horses having hay in front of them all the time, but there is something to be said for keeping track of how much they are eating by doing multiple hay deliveries in a day. As far as the design goes, my klutzy horse would most likely cut his face open on the corner of that box. He's "special" when it comes to things like that though. So, for safety reasons, for those special horses out there, I think I like v1.0 better....

  3. I agree that automatic hay and waters must make things easier, but as mentioned, being able to keep track of how much your horse it eating/drinking is a whole lot easier without them.

    Plus, I've hayed so many horses and filled so many water buckets, that it's just another part of my routine. It would almost be strange NOT having to do it...

  4. Good point about the bad bale going to one horse all day long. And an excellent point about the importance of observation.

    I would like a triangular version of this box with grating on the sides for ventilation, like you mentioned in the post. And the thought of my horse having an entire bale of hay at his disposal just makes me green with envy. You have an awesome barn and manager.

  5. I use small mesh nets, which are the low-tech version of a slow feeder. I fill them twice or three times per day, but it's easy to see how much has been eaten. I expect the nets to be emptied twice daily, because that's how much hay (in pounds) I want my boys to have. If they don't eat everything, I'll give them a loose flake or two at night to make sure they're getting enough.

    So yes, it's convenient to have because I know they have hay at all times, but I do still keep an eye on consumption rate and adjust accordingly. Your BO sounds amazing, and I'm sure she'll keep up with how much everyone is eating and adjust as needed!

  6. Great points all around. I love the idea of a slow hay feeder...though I love the idea of my horse getting three or more hay feedings a day by hand more.

    As for auto waterers, I'm a bit soured on them. Luckily, when they've malfunctioned, they've been caught quickly by someone...but what if??? What if I'm on vacay and someone doesn't check the waterer like I do EVERY time I'm there? Unfortunately, sometimes I feel like chores are done in the fastest manner possible, and things like that aren't checked. After reading some horror stories about colic on some blogs recently, it makes me long for the good old days of buckets and whatnot. Or just, you know, someone taking five extra seconds once or twice a day to CHECK these things.

    Sigh. My problems, not yours:) I do love the feeder:)

  7. It looks like a clever idea, but my very intelligent mare struggles with eating out of large-hole haynets. She's just always been fed on the ground, so it took like 8 uninterrupted hours on a trailer with a haynet in front of her to learn how to get the hay out.

    I think small hole feeders are a bit beyond her.

  8. Yeah I've always felt that way about auto waterers and free feeding dogs. How do you know if they aren't eating/drinking if it's always there and/or refilling. Still having hay in front of the horse at all times is so much healthier for their digestive systems . . . I guess you could make measurement marks on the inside of the box and hang a clipboard on the outside of the stall. When the horses are checked you could mark the level of the hay and also note if it was refilled. Soon you would know the normal rate of eating for each particular horse. Might be a pain in the butt at first, but could work. I like the feeder though. It's really nice.

  9. Your barn is amazing! So great that the BO is so proactive in ensuring all the horses are happy and healthy. The slow feeder looks fab - though I'd prefer something that fit nicely in a corner (maybe something like this - The point others have made about automatic waterers and keeping track of consumption is a good one, though you can get metered waterers that allow you to keep an eye on that e.g


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