The dilemma facing many equine owners who need to confine them or provide an alternative to grass, is how to offer free choice hay without over-feeding, and extending the time they take to eat it.
Thanks to the availability of slowfeeder hay nets with small holes they have largely solved the issue, however the net and hole size influences how long the hay in a net will last, which was the basis of a study by the University of Minnesota.
The Hay Nets Used
For comparison they used 3 nets with hole sizes varying from large (15cm/6″) like your standard hay net to slowfeed style medium (4.5cm/1.75″) and small (2.5cm/1″) nets. The control group had loose hay on the floor and all horses were fed at 1% of their bodyweight with hay measurements take over 2 x 4 hour periods. To determine forage consumption rate, stopwatches were started once horses began eating, and stopped once horses either finished all offered hay, were no longer interested in eating, or the 4 hour time period had finished.
They found horses in the control group and those using the large net finished all their hay in 3.2 and 3.4 hours, while the medium net took 5 hours and the small net took 6.5 hours to consume.
These results show that small or medium nets were effective in decreasing rate and amount of forage, and increasing the total time of forage consumption by adult horses.
If small or medium hay nets were used for twice daily feedings in a box stall setting, it’s anticipated horses would spend 10 to 13 hours each day foraging; more closely mimicking a horse’s natural grazing behavior.
Small and medium hole hay nets represent simple and affordable management tools for extending foraging time when meal feeding horses.
However, use of the small and medium hay nets is not always practical for all horses or their owners, and it does take time (usually 4 to 5 feedings) for horses to get used to eating from the nets. It’s always best to offer loose hay alongside the nets until the horse is happily using it or choosing the net over the loose hay (which they often do).
The Haysaver 4cm Tough Nets are equivalent to the medium size nets, and the Greedy Steed 3cm Premium nets are equivalent to the small nets in the study and are available in several different sizes to suit a variety of feeding situations.
To encourage more movement which is healthier for your horse, consider using several smaller size nets in different locations, and place them as far from water as possible. Keeping nets filled so they never run out will also stabilise your horse’s eating habits, reduce ulcers and above all, removes stress. Read this article by Dr Juliet Getty to find out Restricting Forage is Incredibly Stressful and Slowfeeding Horses.
The study information was sourced from the article on Using Slowfeed Hay Nets by K. Martinson, E. Glunk and W. Weber from the University of Minnesota.