Natural Horse World

How to use slow feed hay nets for horses


Hay nets tied to tyres keeps them on the track.
Hay nets tied to tyres keeps them on the track and away from areas of manure.

Have you ever wondered if there’s a better way to use slow-feed hay nets? There are so many options, choices, and methods to consider that will keep your nets from being torn, lost, rolled under a fence, drowned in the mud, or buried in the sand!

Different ways of using slow-feed hay nets

Haysaver net on tyre
The small Haysaver net tied to a tyre – you can tie a re-purposed rug strap clip-tied on with baling twine to make net refills quicker and as a breakaway.

Personally, I like to tie mine to a tyre so they don’t get rolled through manure, under a fence, or into the mud! This works well for barefoot horses on track systems and in small areas where the fences are close together.

If you have a large ‘flat-ish’ paddock or pasture then leaving them loose so the horses can move as they graze can work better than having them tied to something, especially once they have got the hang of eating from the nets.
Not only does it imitate a more natural feeding process but it also spreads seeds around the paddocks.

Nets tied to a fence work better for horses wearing shoes, and simulate natural browsing.
Nets tied to a fence work better for horses wearing shoes, and simulate natural browsing.

Some like to tie their net to a tree or a fence, to eliminate the chance of a hoof or a shoe getting caught in the net – this is fine if the fence is solid and the net can’t get tossed over or rolled under, and if you don’t mind the area around the tree being compacted.

Haysaver net in drum feeder
Tying a hay net into a bin or drum keeps the hay off wet ground. It’s important to have drain holes in the feeder.

Tying or clipping the net into a feeder of some sort will keep the hay dry and collect the seeds/small pieces as they fall out.
This is better for sandy, dusty, or muddy areas and keeps the hay away from manure too. It is also the only way to feed at ground level for horses wearing shoes.

More considerations

High Hanging Hay Net
Hanging a hay net so it swings can slow down greedy feeders and can also mimic browsing.

Apart from saving hay and stopping it from getting blown away, trampled, or pooped on, slow feed hay nets are aptly named because they do actually slow down consumption, giving the horse more chewing time without increasing the ration. This is the best way to avoid gut ulcers and boredom, particularly if they are confined.

However, some horses and especially ponies still see eating as their full-time job, and until the net is empty they hardly move.
One of the challenges with using nets is keeping our equines moving, so it’s a good idea to use several smaller nets (than one large one), that are placed as far apart from each other and the water source, as possible.

I’m keenly waiting for someone to come up with a robotic platform (like the lawn mowing robots) that you can attach your net to, and will slowly move around the pasture causing the horse to move along as if it were grazing. Now there’s an idea for a budding inventor!

Issues to be aware of

Hanging a net from a pole is another option for slowing down consumption.
Hanging a net from a pole is another option for slowing down consumption.

If your horses are tearing up your nets then it may be because they are finding a hanging position too frustrating to be able to grasp the hay easily to start with.
When they are experienced net users, they will cope better, but to start with having the net low on the ground enables them to perfect their ‘nibble’.

Hanging a net from a tree or a pole makes it harder to grasp the hay, so it’s a good solution for greedy feeders as the upright position, and greater movement will slow them down a little.

Barrel hay net feeder.
Although this looks like a great idea, it will cause the horse to twist their neck at an unnatural angle to get the hay, and some would also find it frustrating to eat from.

And if you are feeding a herd of horses together, remember to always have an extra net so the lowest ranking member doesn’t miss out due to the only free net being next to their biggest rival!

If your horses wear shoes or rugs/blankets, ensure the nets are at a height that they can’t rub on or paw at them. Another option is to contain them inside a bin with sides at least 1 metre (3 feet) high.

Hard-sided hay feeders such as barrels or bins that have a netted section the hay falls into can be easier for us to fill. They may shelter the hay from rain but can be difficult for the horses to eat at an angle that is healthy for their bodies.

Think about how they naturally graze – biting down on the grass, or tearing off the tops of plants when browsing.  Try to mimic that situation for their long-term biomechanical health.

Using nets efficiently

Using hay nets is always going to be more time-consuming than tossing hay out loose, but there are ways to make the filling and distribution faster and more efficient.

Hay net filler.
The Stablehand Haynet Filler makes net filling much quicker and less frustrating.

If you have extra nets on hand, filling enough for a couple of feed times can help, especially in winter when there are fewer daylight hours.
Filling smaller nets can also be done quicker by using a ring or tub to hold the net open, or a Duratech Hay Net Filler. It fits the Haysaver Small Nets and Greedy Steed medium and large size nets and makes slipping the hay in so easy. They are also great for filling sacks of manure or shavings.

Round Bale Nets

Horses love having access to a round bale.

The most efficient of all methods is using  Round bale Haysaver nets.
The upside is less frequent replacement of bales, and the hay is always available – much better for the gut.
The downside is they may not reduce hay intake enough for very greedy ponies, and they encourage a lot of standing around the bale, which can cause a lack of movement.
The more horses, the more movement there will be as they swap places or all head off for a drink.

It’s also important to ensure you have enough round bales for all herd members to get access – generally, a maximum of 4 horses per bale is fine if they all get along fairly well.
I always remove the outer layer of hay, using the soiled bits for mulch and the rest for making piles for those who might miss out on being at the net. This also helps the horses to get used to a round bale net initially, as they have something to fill up on before tackling the netted hay.

Protection from wet weather

Round bale slow feed hay nets cover
These horses have their own section to eat from which can help when first feeding a herd on a round bale. The cover also helps reduce spoiling by rain.

Another consideration with using round bale nets is that if you only have 1 or 2 horses eating from the bale, it will take longer to finish and the weather can spoil the bale unless it’s sheltered somehow.
The bottom of the bale can also spoil if contacting the ground so sitting it on a pallet helps.

My Pinterest Page on HayFeeders offers a range of ideas for round bale enclosures and covers, along with other hay feeder options.

For more info and techniques on slow feeding for horses visit our page and other posts on the topic.

And if you have a different way of using slow-feed hay nets, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “How to use slow feed hay nets for horses”

  1. Linda Hicks

    I am using slow feeder hay netsfor my two minis and a horse that bolts his food. My concern is sometimes within the bale there is mold . When I fed the old way of throwing the hay on the floor I could detect the mold quickly and throw it out but with the netting system which I wrap the bale up then cut the strings there is no way of detecting mold. What is that solution for that?

    1. Cynthia

      Hi Linda,
      It’s not good if your bales have mold in them so the best way to detect that when you have it in the net, is to cut the string before putting the hay in the net then go through each biscuit to check as you place it in the net. It’s a bit more time-consuming but the only way to get any moldy hay out. Hope you can buy better hay in the future. 🙂
      Cheers, Cynthia.

  2. T Hunter

    Don’t like slow feeders ! Especially when used by beginner horse owners they are dangerous if positioned improperly and I have had several problems with the Haynet having too small holes which only frustrates the horse Anything dangling around a horses legs or feet makes me nervous as the horse may paw or get stuck on the net causing injuries ! What ever happened to feeding hay a few times a day on the ground which is much more natural and better for the horses upper airway and also their backs much more natural position with their head down draining the sinuses and stretchin their backs

    1. Cynthia

      I guess everyone is entitleed to their opinion, but its all about educating horse owners which is what I’m trying to do. I haven’t heard of any horses getting stuck in the nets yet – unless you’re silly enough to use them with a shod horse then it won’t happen if you have the drawstring tied up properly.
      Nets provide a solution for those who can’t be there to feed loose hay several times a day – they stop horses gorging, and space the intake out over many more hours, and they can quite safely be used at ground level which is as natural as grazing. Hope you get to one day experience the benefits of using slowfeeder hay nets – properly of course!

      1. Jesse Dunn

        I would love to be there all day everyday to feed out multiple small amounts through the paddock but for most of us that’s just not possible with full time work and not living onsite.
        If you can and do, that’s great but the rest of us are just doing the best we can.
        This (tyre tie) is a brilliant option for those of us that are boarding and can’t install something permanent and find the cost of the box style ready to purchase slow feeder boxes abhorrent or just unsuitable. Very cool thank you!

    2. Hi I just talked to a nutritionist about this. absolutely 20 pounds of hay for a 1000 pound horse which has to be fed constantly to avoid ulcers, He said if the horse is eating more than that use slow feeders, if you need an ultra slow net get one. Ulcers a prevalent in horses, feed as close to the ground as possible for top line and other health concerns. If a horse is eating all its hay quickly and stands in a stall all night you are asking for ulcers..

    3. Jemari

      Your point is completely valid, but it needs to be understood in context with other facts as well. It’s worth noting that any string or loop object has the same safety issue if someone doesn’t know how to care for their horse, (like halters and ropes). The reason vets are trying to get more people to switch to nets is horses delicate digestiive systems are stressed by being fed “meals”. Meals are unnatural for horses, and are a convenience for humans. Horses are meant to nibble all day. The number one and number two causes of horse death are colic and laminitis, and these occur mostly because of unnatural feeding practices, which includes feeding “meals”, (as well as other things, but let’s stay focussed on the nets topic). Ulcers in horses are extremely common and recent veterinary studies have shown many horses begin to develop ulcers if they are without food for as little as six hours! We fed loose flakes to our horses for decades because we didn’t know any better. The nice side benefits of hay nets are they save money on hay, and if you figure out how to use large nets or hopper style nets, you can actually cut down your hay feeding time a LOT. My vet just told me to switch to a smaller size net because my horse is so efficient at emptying the 1 3/4″ hole net that she runs out of food between feedings, and she is getting more hay than she needs. So she is both at risk for ulcer and is getting chubby using her hay net. She is a young pony mare, and she can be very impatient and sassy, but she aclimated to the net in a few days. She now needs to go to a 1″ hole net per her equine vet!!!

      1. Cynthia

        I absolutely agree and thanks for your input. Every horse needs to be treated as an individual and adjustments made accordingly. I’m glad to hear your vet is ‘on the ball’!

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