SLOW FEEDING: How getting closer to nature can make your horse -- and your wallet -- happier and healthier
In recent years, many people have started to discover that a diet closer to what horses eat in the wild – mostly forage with little or no grain – can have great health benefits, including a lower incidence of gastric ulcers and colic. However, it turns out that how wild horses eat may be just as important as what they eat. Proponents of “slow feeding” – using feeders that cause the horse to consume their hay more slowly – believe that this practice has many benefits – for both horses and owners.
Studies of horses living in natural environments have revealed that horses generally graze up to 16 hours a day, rarely going without eating for more than a few hours at a time. As native grasses tend to be relatively sparse, free-living horses often get only a few blades of grass before they must walk to the next little mouthful. This type of grazing takes time, providing a small but steady intake of food – which is exactly what the horse’s digestive system is designed to handle. “The horse has a very small stomach relative to its body mass and metabolic needs,” explains Candace Platz, DVM, of Maine Equine Associates in Gloucester, ME, “and as such it is designed to be a continuous or ‘trickle’ feeder, rather than something like a cow that takes in a lot of food at once and then goes off and digests it.”
The ‘trickle feeder’ model is further born out by the fact that the stomach of the horse secretes hydrochloric acid on a continual basis, regardless of the presence or absence of food. This works well for an animal designed to take in small amounts of food almost non-stop. Unfortunately, the acidity of the stomach can become dangerously high rather quickly in the absence of food, putting the horse at risk for the development of equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) – an extremely common condition in domestic horses. One 2009 study, performed by Nanna Luthersson and colleagues at the University of Copenhagen, found that a prime risk factor associated with the development of EGUS is when the interval between forage feedings is greater than six hours.
Another factor that can contribute to high acidity is the way horses secrete saliva. States Platz, “The horse does not secrete saliva continuously, as we do, but only in response to the stimulation of chewing. When they chew, they produce bicarbonate saliva that buffers the acid of the stomach, protecting the stomach lining. However, if the horse is not chewing for any significant length of time, the acidity of the stomach is unopposed by any bicarbonate, contributing to excessive acidity. Thus we are starting to hear experts talk about the importance of ‘chew time’ for the horse – the more the better.”
The common practice of feeding horses large meals twice daily, with long gaps in between, may therefore be problematic. This is even more true for horses with metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and Cushing’s. While it is generally known that such horses should not be given feeds with a high starch or sugar content, it is less well known that even hay can cause significant fluctuations in levels of glucose, insulin and leptin when fed in large meals separated by long periods of time. “Hay is essentially ‘grass jerky’,” says Eleanor Kellon, VMD, an equine nutritional specialist with a particular interest in metabolic disorders. As she explains, “Hay is a much more nutrient dense food than fresh grass because most of the water has been removed. When horses go for a long time without eating and then get fed a big meal of hay, this causes insulin ‘spikes’ – the same phenomenon that has been documented when humans eat breakfast. This is not natural for any horse, but when a horse has a metabolic disorder, you especially want to try to avoid such peaks and valleys, as they may exacerbate the condition.”
Kellon points to the work of Joshua Cartmill, PhD, of Louisiana State University, whose study on leptin levels in horses documented how different feeding regimens can affect not only leptin – a hormone important in regulating hunger and body condition – but glucose and insulin as well. Meal-fed horses demonstrated the greatest fluctuations, while horses given continual access to hay “had low and constant concentrations of glucose, insulin, and leptin, with no apparent fluctuations”.
With these facts in hand, it becomes evident that feeding large meals 2-3 times daily is not ideally suited to the physiology of the horse. However, the reality is that many of us don’t have access to unlimited, year-round pasture, and feeding many small portions of hay spread out over 24 hours is generally impractical. Providing free-choice hay may be a workable option for horses that don’t put on excessive weight, but it is a risky practice for those that do pack on the pounds, and the wastage involved can make it expensive.
Proponents of “slow feeding”– the practice of using restrictive hay feeders designed to extend the amount of time it takes a horse to eat its hay – believe that they have found a solution. Ranging in design from simple, small-mesh hay nets to elaborately constructed feeding boxes, restrictive hay feeders or “slow feeders” are becoming a must-have for some horse owners, who credit them with improving the mental and physical well-being of their horses. Some creative people design and build their own slow feeders, but a growing number of ready-made products are available for sale, as well.
One place to get a good overview of different kinds of slow feeders, both DIY and store bought, is JoAnn Johnson’s “wiki” website: paddockparadise.wetpaint.com. “I first became intrigued with the idea of slow feeding about 15 years ago,” says Johnson, “but it wasn’t until 2006 that we were able to get set up for keeping our own horses at home and really start trying it. By 2008, I thought I had slow feeding mastered, and I started the website as a way to share what was working for me.” Other people started contributing their own ideas for building different kinds of slow feeders, sparking new creativity with input from people in far flung locals. Says Johnson, “I once thought that further innovation beyond grids or hay bags was impossible and that the wiki had outlasted its raison d'être. Then, Cheryl posted her hybrid small mesh hay net/barrel slow feeder concept -- it had hard sides AND mesh. That's when I realized that the ideas bounced around there will continue to help build a better slow feeder. I've certainly been humbled and constantly inspired by ideas contributed to the wiki from around the globe.”
What all slow feeders have in common, whether home made or store bought, is that they use some kind of netting, grid or holes to restrict the horse’s access to the hay. The openings must be large enough to allow the horse to extract some hay, but small enough so that the horse can only pull out a few strands at a time. The openings in traditional feeders are typically much to large for this purpose. Regular hay nets, for example, have openings that may stretch to 6” or wider when the net is full, while the openings on a small mesh hay net used for slow feeding will generally be 1-2”. The smaller the holes, the greater the level of “challenge” for the horse, and the longer it takes for the horse to eat the hay.
While the benefits of consuming hay more slowly have not been extensively studied, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelmingly positive, and some veterinarians are reporting quantifiable improvements in conditions such as gastric ulcers and in rates of colic among their clients who implement slow feeding. One such vet is Fred Beasom, DVM of Tehachapi, CA, who now recommends slow feeding to all his clients. “This is simply a more natural way of feeding, keeping food in their stomach all the time vs. gorging them 2-3 times a day like so many people do. Not only are the horses calmer, quieter and demonstrating fewer vices, but I’m seeing a marked reduction in the incidence of ulcers – I’d say about 75%. Consuming the hay more slowly also reduces the likelihood of choke, and it lowers the risk of impaction colic, as well.”
Race horse trainer Matthew Chew has observed all of these benefits among the horses in his stable at Santa Anita, CA. Says Chew, “Slow feeding has been great for us. For one thing, ulcers are a very common problem in racing stables, and we have an intensive program to try to reduce the incidence of ulcers in our horses. We had a number of measures in place for years – preventative medications and such – but we still had lots of horses with ulcers. When we decided to try slow feeding, I had every horse scoped to get a baseline, then we went back and scoped them again after six months of using the small mesh hay nets. I was very pleased to find that our incidences were greatly reduced, and with the horses that had had severe ulcers, the inflammation was quite a bit less. I think this is because they are eating more as if they were grazing in a natural process, and the stomach isn’t sitting empty for any significant period of time.”
Chew has also seen his rate of impaction colics drop to zero. “Maybe we’re just on a lucky streak, but since we started using these nets, we haven’t had a single incidence of impaction colic. In a racing stable, it’s a very controlled environment, but you can’t watch and monitor everything. Sometimes, a groom will put a horse away that’s a little bit hot, and that horse goes sucking hay down, taking large bites, and I think that helps to promote colic because the horse’s body can’t process that amount of hay that fast, especially if you have a little bit of a warm belly because they were put in a little soon or something agitated them in their stalls. I don’t think you’re ever going to completely get rid of the twisted gut colics – those just happen. But as far as the impactions, I definitely think slow feeding helps to prevent that.
“Another thing I like is that the horses are chewing and digesting their hay better, so we’re not seeing incidences of choke, and there is also more consistency in their manure. You can see that the bits of hay in it are finer, and the manure is well-formed with a lot less diarrhea. Add to this the fact that we now have almost no wastage, whereas before we were seeing about 10-15% of our hay lost to wastage. I hate to sound like a commercial for the darn things, but this one change has made a big difference.”
What is particularly interesting in Chew’s case is that his race horses always had free-choice access to hay whenever they were in their stalls, so one would think the horses would have been “grazing” whenever they wanted to already, and therefore, there would be no real added benefits from slow feeding. According to Chew, however, free-choice does not have the same results as slow feeding. As he explains, “A lot of times what would happen in the past is that a horse would go into the stall, particularly after training, and they would eat quite rapidly. When they suck down the hay like that, eating large bites of hay, and they would get fuller quicker. Once they got full they would back off, and then they would either sleep or just stand in the back of their stall. With the slow feeders, it forces them to eat at a slower pace, so it takes longer for them to get full and they never really ever do get totally full, so they’re constantly picking at the hay, and that’s really they way they were designed to eat. It even helps with the picky eaters, because it seems to keep them more interested. Of course this is all just my opinion, but I can tell you that my neighbor, racing hall of famer Richard Mandella, has seen the results I’m getting, and he’s now using the nets for a bunch of his horses, too.”
Another population that may benefit from slow feeding is senior horses. Cindy Daigre runs a retirement home for senior horses in TN, and finds that the practice of slow feeding reduces quidding, greatly reduces the incidence of colic and ulcers, and helps the older horses stay in better weight. As she explains, “The reason that the nets help with quidding is that the horses are taking much smaller mouthfuls at a time – often only a few strands of hay. That leads to proper chewing and improved digestion and absorption, which in turn reduces so many of the problems often associated with senior horses.”
Slow feeding also appears to help horses that exhibit stereotypic behaviors, commonly known as stable vices. Beasom has observed a reduction or in some cases elimination of stable vices in horses put on a slow feeding program, and other vets concur. States Platz, “We are learning that intermittent feeding may be at least partly responsible for stable vices (a term I don’t like because it tends to blame the victim). Wood chewing, wind-sucking, weaving, and so on – can all be caused or exacerbated by the horse only having food for very short periods during the day. The horse is programmed by nature to exhibit certain behaviors, and one of those major behaviors is chronic eating. You take that away from them, they are going to do something with that mouth – and that’s often something you don’t want and that’s not good for them. Give that back to them, and you’re likely to see a reduction in those negative behaviors.”
Elizabeth Carr, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ACVECC, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University, agrees that slow feeding is likely to be beneficial in numerous ways. As she explains, “I like the slow feeding concept because it more closely mimics natural grazing, and it gives the horses something to do for a longer period of time. I think the psychological benefits of that are obvious, because eating is what horses like to do. Another good aspect of using slow feeders is that they may make group feeding easier. If you have to group feed with loose hay, you sometimes get one horse who inhales it all and then the skinny horse doesn’t get enough food. Using slow feeders kind of evens it up, forcing the easy keeper to eat more slowly and giving the other ones more of a chance to have adequate access.”
Carr also recognizes that slow feeders can make life easier for the owners, as well. “I’m just like any other modern horse owner – I try to feed my horses four to five times a day, but there are days when I can’t and I feel bad about that. In that respect it’s a huge benefit, because you can make those two or three meals last 12 hours – that’s awesome. If you are reducing the time gaps between meals, I think that’s a real positive. There doesn’t seem to be a “con” to using slow feeders, other than buying them or making them.”
Still, Carr cautions that some claims made about slow feeding have not been researched and that anecdotal evidence is not definitive. “Hay, in general, takes a long time to be digested,” she says, “so in terms of protecting the horse’s digestive health, I’m not sure it makes a huge difference if an amount of hay is consumed in say, one hour vs. three. When we scope horses’ stomachs, we tell people to take them off food for about 18 hours at least so that our view won’t obstructed by hay. Normally, even after 12 hours of inappetence, I’ll still see a hay ball – small, but there – in the ventral portion of the stomach. By that time it’s not big enough to protect the upper part of the stomach that is more sensitive to acid, but it does show how long it takes for hay to clear the stomach. In general, I agree that having a horse eat more slowly over a longer period is a good idea, but what I can’t say is whether that would mean there is a significantly larger amount that is available to protect the upper portion of the stomach for a longer period of time.”
Louise Husted, DVM, PhD, an Assistant Professor at the University of Copenhagen who studies gastric ulcers in horses, believes that any extension of the period a horse spends chewing its hay is likely beneficial. However, she agrees that more work needs to be done in this area. “In summary,” she says, “the time spent chewing roughage is time spent buffering the acidic environment in the stomach. Longer seems intuitively better in order to prevent gastric ulcers, but this is still just theory. What we do know is that when the gastric acid comes into contact with the stomach mucosa near the region where ulcers are most often found (margo plicatus), this predisposes horses to develop ulcers or at least erosions. This has a certain time component to it, as it has been demonstrated in vitro that the mucosa does not become damaged if the time frame is less than a few hours.
“The logical thing would then be to avoid the gastric acid coming into contact with the mucosa completely. Measuring the pH in the region reveals that when the stomach contains feed material based on roughage (for example hay), then pH during most of the day and evening will be around 7-8. During these circumstances, development of mucosal erosions or ulcers are not favored. Hence, making sure that the equine stomach contains roughage material most of the time would seem like a favorable factor against ulcer development. This could be achieved either by feeding small amounts of roughage feed throughout the day and night. Alternatively, one could look at how the feed could last the longest, as is accomplished with slow feeders.”
If you are interested in trying a slow feeder for your own horses, it is also important to recognize that not all horses have the same nutritional requirements, so you need to take their individual needs into account when selecting a feeder and planning a program. “I can’t let my horse have free access to hay, even in a slow feeder,” says horse owner Jennifer Franklin, from Langley, BC. “My horse is insulin resistant,” she explains, “and even on hay that would make other horses get ribby, he gets fat if he gets too much.
“I tried free-choice feeding from one of those very large, small-hole hay nets, but he started to put on too much weight. I had been told to try it for a few weeks, that he would eventually ‘self-regulate’ once he realized that the food was never going to run out, but that didn’t happen. And, since that particular net only works well if you keep hay in it at all times, my horse ended up chewing big holes in it when I tried putting him back on rationed amounts of hay and it would start to run out.”
The solution for Franklin has been to find another slow feeder that cannot be easily damaged, even when the horse is going after the last few stems of hay. “There are so many slow feeders on the market now, and for me it was a process of trial and error until I found which one worked best for me. I still can’t give my horse free access to hay, but at least the hay he does get now lasts for hours, instead of getting hoovered up in minutes.”
As for people who worry that loading a slow feeder will take more time and effort than simply throwing a couple of flakes on the floor, Franklin says, “Yeah, it probably takes me a whole extra minute or two to load the feeders, but overall it actually saves me a lot of time. I can now do fewer feedings because each feeding lasts so much longer, and I’m also not spending time raking up wasted hay because it’s not getting thrown all over the place and walked on.
“However, I want to say that even if it wasn’t saving me time and hay, I would still do it because the health benefits are enormous and to me, quite obvious. Specifically, before I started using the slow feeders, my horse colicked four times, and he hasn’t colicked once since we started slow feeding. Of course that’s just ‘anecdotal evidence’, but I’m convinced that his gut is functioning better and feeling better because he has food going through it in smaller amounts over a longer period of time. That alone is worth the price of the feeder and any extra time or effort it could take!”
Mike Lane, a horse owner from Redding, CA, doesn’t have horses with metabolic problems, but he is also convinced that slow feeding is the way to go. “I was feeding a well-balanced, properly supplemented diet three times a day,” Lane says, “but my horses were obviously bored and hungry in between. They were chewing wood, chewing trees, and they would practically inhale their food when they got it. It was also difficult for me, because I had to hire someone to do their lunch feed, and I was tied to the other two feedings every single day. Then someone told me about the idea of slow feeding, and a big old light bulb went on in my head.”
Lane discovered Johnson’s wiki website and tried out a couple of home-made designs before deciding to purchase some small mesh hay nets. “I tried a few different kinds of nets,” he states, “but the one I’m using now can hold a huge amount of hay, and it also really slows the horses down. I can now load the nets up once a day, and there is still some left when I go to feed the next day. The horses always have hay in front of them, and you can just see how much more content they are. No more wood or tree chewing, their weight is good, and no more anxiety around feeding time.”
Another benefit Lane has noticed is far less hay wastage. As he says, “Before I started using slow feeders, I was throwing away a significant amount of hay. My guys seemed to trample and mess on as much as they ate – it was like watching dollar bills being ground into the muck. I had tried free feeding, and that was even worse because they would pick through the bales and leave all the stems. Now, with the slow feeders, there is practically zero wastage. The horses can only pull out a small mouthful at a time, which they then chew and swallow. Some fine bits do fall on the ground, but I put a rubber mat under the net and the horses clean that up every few minutes, so I have almost nothing going into the wheelbarrow – it’s all going into the horse!”
One further benefit has been a reduction in the dust being inhaled by Lane’s horses. “One of my horses is sensitive to dust,” says Lane, “and whenever he would break apart a flake or stick his nose in a pile, he would always sneeze or cough a couple of times. I used to water his hay to try to keep the dust down – when I had time. I’ve been very happy to see that when he eats out of the slow feeders, he doesn’t sneeze or cough at all. I think it’s because his nose never gets shoved into the hay, so what dust does get created by pulling the hay out of the net just disperses into the air, away from his nose. I had heard that slow feeders were better for the horse’s gut and could save you money, but this was a bonus I didn’t know would happen.”
Lane recently added another slow-feeding tactic – a feed-dispensing “toy” that helps keep his horses busy and interested while helping to encourage movement. “The only thing that isn’t great about my horses eating from the nets is that they pretty much just stand there, because the food is in one place. I wanted to get them to move around a bit more, so I got a couple of these toy things and I put little hay cubes and treats in there, and the horses push and roll these things all over the place to get the stuff out. I like to see them moving, and I think they actually find the toys fun. Overall, I really think my horses are happier now, and hey, I can head out for dinner and a movie and not worry about getting home in time to feed. I just don’t see a down side to slow feeding at all.”
Platz agrees. “Between the savings of money from not wasting hay and all the physical and psychological benefits to the horse,” she says, “to me it’s such a no-brainer. I used to go out a lot at night to check my horses and re-feed to make sure they had food in front of them. And now, we just fill their nets – I have two per horse of the ones I use – and that takes them through until morning and they still have hay left. That amount of hay would not have lasted them before. They would have picked through it, walked on it, made a mess of it and left over the ruined hay – and then they would have stood there hungry. Honestly, unless you have your horses on 24-7 pasture or you’re okay with them wasting a ton of hay with regular free-choice feeding, I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t switch to slow feeding.”
If you would like more information on slow feeding, check out: http://paddockparadise.wetpaint.com/page/Slow+Feeders where you will find discussions, photographs and ideas for many different types of home made slow feeders, as well as links to a variety of commercially available feeders.
Sidebar: One horse owner talks about her DIY slow feeders
B. Bolliger of Brentwood, CA, currently uses a combination of commercially available small mesh hay nets and several slow feeders she built herself.
“In 2008 I received a flyer about a clinic given by Swedish Hoof School owner, Ove Lind, and heard raves about it. I talked to one woman who had attended the previous year and she mentioned he would cover slow feeders, and she in fact already had built one and would give me more information at the clinic. I attended, and found out many of the reasons why barefoot feet, slow feeding, low sugar diets, and lots of exercise are so good for horses. I was so completely sold on the slow feeder concept that I came home and had one built immediately. It was exactly what I had wanted to do for a long time!
“For the first horizontal feeder I used one of the 85 or 110 gallon water tubs, with a 2”x 2” grid to go on top of the hay, cut to fit the tub/ I purchased the grid from a local salvage yard. I contacted a government agency about testing for lead, and was told that I could purchase a test kit at a local hardware store, so I tested any painted metal used in the feeders for lead before using. I eventually had to put rope and snaps on the grid to hold it in as the youngest horse tipped it up with his feet, and without something to hold the grid in, the hay dumps out, which is what he wants! Holes are drilled in the tub just above ground level, one on each side, then I use thin rope through the hole to the inside, and one-handed bull snap tied to each rope to fasten to the grid, and then these neat fasteners secured high up on the outside that secure the rope whatever length is needed when it is pulled tight.
“The second and third feeders are also horizontal feeders, and were made of ¾” plywood, in the shape of a box—the first 2’x4’, using one sheet of plywood. One-inch holes were drilled near the four corners for fines and dust to be swept out. The grid was easier to fit in something with square corners rather than the curved tub. Since the horses learned to get their heads beneath the grid to get to the food and eat too fast, I eventually put a piece of 4” ABS at each end, with 2 bolts on each one so they didn’t turn, and so that the bolts stick out to the outside of the box. One end was bolted , and the other secured with wing nuts and a large area washer to keep in place. To add hay, I just take off the wing nut, remove the ABS, lift up the grid, and add the hay, and replace the ABS. Since my creative horses were also dumping these down, I secured them to the rubber water tubs, and that took care of the problem. I also tie them to the side of the three-sided shelter so they can’t move them all over the place.
“The third feeder was the vertical type, with the grid at the front of the feeder, a hinged lid on the top for filling, and a smooth “slide” at a 45-degree angle inside the box to make the hay slide to the bottom, where the horses eat it. They love this one, and I have never had a problem with hay getting caught. It is by far the easiest to fill as well. The grid for the front came with four edges, as a frame, so the box was made to fit the grid. The grid openings are a little larger than 2”x2”, but it works fine. The grid is fastened onto the front of the box by sliding it onto protruding bolts, one on each side, through holes drilled in the frame. They are fastened with a wing nut on each side. The frame is notched at the bottom and fits over a round head bolt on the bottom of the box.. It is very easy to get the grid off and on, but that is not necessary very often. The top is slanted so that rain water would run off toward the back if it is used outside. It was also primed and painted so can be used for outdoor feeding. The top is closed securely with a gate-type hinge and snap to keep the clever horses from opening the top and eating out of there. Since the young horse has a Mustang frame of mind, and is very clever, it is also tied to the wall, and even more, has a turnbuckle system and a small piece of 2x4 wood on each side to keep it from being picked up and moved. One thing about feeders, the horses are very determined, and it is sometimes a laughable challenge to keep one step ahead of them—actually, it is more like letting them get ONLY one step ahead!”
Sidebar: Slow Feeders Put to the Test
Intrigued by the idea of slow feeders, author Susan Kauffmann decided to try a few on her own horses to get a sense of how well they worked, and just how much they slowed the horses down.
Knowing about the potential detriments of traditional feeding practices but struggling to manage multiple feedings a day, I loved the idea of slow feeders. I tested three, using seven pounds of hay fed loose on a ground mat as a “control”. It took each of my horses about 1 hour, 45 minutes to finish their seven pound control portion on the mat. Here are the results I got with the various feeders, after allowing for a “learning curve” period for the horses:
Feeder: “The Grazer” (www.doublel.com/equinedivision/haygrazer.html)
Description: Basically a metal box with a spring-loaded tray that lifts the hay up against a metal grate.
Price: As low as $129.99 U.S. online
Time to eat 7 lbs. hay: 2 hours, 30 minutes (+ 45 minutes)
Learning curve: Both of my horses figured out how to eat from this feeder within a few minutes.
Notes: Sturdy construction – held up to my youngster bashing it repeatedly with his enormous hooves…I think he thought it was a drum. We found that hay fines would build up quickly under the unit, so we put our up on blocks to make it easy to reach under and clean them. Took me a while to get the hang of loading them; found it helpful to nail up a bungee to hold the top grate up while pressing the hay down. Very little wastage of hay. Can hold up to about three flakes at a time.
Feeder: “Freedom Feeder” (freedomfeeder.com)
Description: Small mesh hay net made of 250 lb. test woven 3 mm nylon twine.
Price: $40.00 U.S. from manufacturer; has Canadian distributor: Lisa Reid, Edmonton, email@example.com
Time to eat 7 lbs. hay: 3 hours, 45 minutes (+ 2 hours)
Learning curve: It was probably a few days before the horses had really figured out how to get the hay out in a comfortable way. Best to follow manufacturer’s instructions when introducing and using these nets.
Notes: Slowest of the three test feeders. Designed to have hay in them at all times. Horses did fine with them like that, but chewed holes in the nets if the hay was allowed to run out. Can hold an entire 100 lb. square bale, if you want them to. Can be hung from a fence, tree, etc. If you want to keep hay in front of your horses at all times, this net is great – but don’t let it run out.
Feeder: “The Nibblenet” (www.thinaircanvas.com)
Description: Webbing hay net, comes in various sizes and styles; custom orders available.
Price: I chose the largest “Double Nibble” (has webbing on both sides), with 1.5” holes. Cost $61.99 U.S. Smaller sizes cost less.
Time to eat 7 lbs. hay: 3 hours, 15 minutes (+ 1.5 hours)
Learning curve: Very little, but my horses had already learned to eat from the Freedom Feeder nets.
Notes: Very durable, easy to load. Must have a wall behind them for the horses to push against or it too difficult for them to get the hay out. I can get up to four flakes off a 100 lb. bale in each. Choose the 1.5” openings (or smaller…they are now coming out with a 1.25” option), as the 2” openings do not slow most horses down enough. The different sizes and styles provide great options for trailering, ponies, etc.
PARTIAL LIST OF SLOW FEEDERS
SMALL MESH HAY NETS:
Excellent chart: http://paddockparadise.wetpaint.com/page/Hay+Net+Comparison+Chart
Features: Many sizes available with choice of hole size, sturdy construction of nylon webbing, can be attached to wall or ground. Square sides allow for ease of loading and larger amount of hay in the net.
2. Freedom Feeder: http://www.freedomfeeder.com/
Features: small-mesh hay net comes in three sizes – one large enough to hold an entire 100 lb. bale of hay. Really slows hay comsumption very well.
Comments: If hay is allowed to run out, horses are more likely to chew holes through this net. Made sores on the lips of my horses because of this, as I can’t allow Gryph to free feed, even with a net.
3. Cinch Net: http://cinchchix.com/the-cinch-products.html
Features: small-mesh hay net that comes in various sizes – one large enough for use with a round bale.
4. Busy Horse Feeders: http://www.busyhorse.com/
Features: several sizes available with choice of hole size, sturdy nylon-webbing construction.
Comments: Flat design (as compared to Nibblenet) would make it harder to load and not hold as much hay as a comparably sized Nibblenet.
5. Swedish Hoof School nets: http://caisasshop.ebutiken.nu/
Features: several sizes available, tape-sewed edges and poly material may be more durable than nylon nets.
1. Slow Down ® Hay Feeder: http://www.slowdownhayfeeder.com/content/view/1/1/
Features: various size hole plates available, plug for soaking/draining, D-rings for wall and/or pipe panel attachment.
Comment: Plate does not spin – maybe hard for horse to get some of the hay? VERY pricy!
2. Porta-Grazer: http://www.porta-grazer.com/
Features: various size holes in restrictor pan, plug for soaking/draining, optional lid can also hold water (7.5 gallons). Restrictor pan can spin in any direction, possibly making it easier for horse to get at all the hay.
Comment: Not sure if/how it attaches to wall/fence. Fairly pricy.
1. The Grazer: http://www.doublel.com/haygrazer.html
Features: sturdy metal construction, spring-loaded tray to lift hay up to grate.
Comments: Does not hold much hay (only up to 3 flakes, in my experience), does not slow the horses down all that much. Small bits of hay build up under unit – hard to clean under if you don’t put it up on blocks.
2. The Natural Feeder: http://thenaturalfeeder.com/
3. The Slow Grazer: http://www.grazingbox.com/
1. The Nose-It: http://www.nose-it.com/
2. Amazing Graze: http://www.petvetsupply.com/equhhpi010.html