Domesticating our horses has changed the way they eat, and not entirely in a positive way. In the wild, horses are used to eating small quantities of food throughout the day.
In the barn, however, this is not always an option.
As a horse owner, you have to find the perfect feeding balance between your horse’s needs and what is sustainable and practical for you. We are here to show you the pros and cons of free-choice feeding and how you can adjust to slow feeding so you can offer your horse a more natural and healthy feeding alternative.
We’ll walk you through the benefits of slow feeding and give you a few tips, tricks, and indications on approaching this technique.
Let’s get started!
Free feeding challenges
As we mentioned, horses are used to eating smaller portions of food more often. So, you might have considered using free-choice feeding to make sure your horse has the best possible diet. But, the more you research, the more you might realize that free feeding has its challenges fitting into the lifestyle you and your horse are used to.
Experts say horses should eat 1-2% of their weight, and 70% should come from hay. But with free-choice feeding, it might be hard to calculate this. Also, a full-time diet of quality food available all the time can be cost-prohibitive if you use free feeding, due to the amount of waste.
A solution could come from feeding devices such as hay racks that help your horse eat small amounts of hay at a time. This method has the disadvantage of putting your horse’s neck in an unnatural position for swallowing, or causing damage to your horse's teeth from the metal.
Luckily, there is another solution that can help you naturally feed your horse, without the waste: using a poly hay ring to introduce slow feeding.
Next, let’s see what are the benefits of slow feeding your horse and what steps you should take when you decide to start using a poly hay ring.
Benefits of using a Poly Hay Ring for slow feeding
Slow feeding has been proven to have both physical and psychological advantages for your horse. Slow hay feeding can improve their overall health and mood while helping manage weight problems as well.
1. Decreased secretion of cortisol
Horses benefit most from constant grazing. Feeding rationed meals can increase cortisol and raise insulin levels, which eventually leads to fat storage. For some horses, this can cause or worsen obesity.
With slow feeding, forage is available at all times to maintain or even lose weight.
2. Reduced risk of ulcers
The horse’s stomach produces acid all the time, as they are used to grazing throughout the day. In the wild or with free-choice forage, it will increase saliva production, which is an alkaline substance that buffers gastric acid.
Having fiber in the stomach is essential, especially during any physical activity.
With slow feeding, your horse can forage all day long, thus reducing the amount of acid. This reduces the risks of gastric ulcers that can impact health, performance, and body condition.
3. Better digestion
Using multiple locations for slow feeding will help your horse have optimal digestion. This will promote fermentation and prevent conditions that may contribute to colic.
The balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria can be disrupted by periods without hay or grass intake. Maintaining a well-balanced population of bacteria is essential for gut function.
Here are some other benefits of using a Poly Hay Ring for slow feeding:
- Minimizes boredom
- Reduces hay waste, saving cleaning time and money
- Helps manage weight
- Mimics grazing action
- It keeps insulin levels even
- Decreases stress for you and your horse
- Horses are always ready to ride
- Reduces aggression
How to approach slow feeding
As with any change in the horse’s diet, slow feeding must be approached gradually. Make sure you consult an equine nutritionist before making any changes to ensure your horse’s nutritional requirements are being met in proper ratios.
Next, we will share some tips to help you get started with slow feeding.
Introduce slow feeders
First, you have to introduce slow feeders and ensure a perpetual source of hay for your horse. It will only take a few days for your horses to get used to ‘grazing’ their hay. This is the most important step for successful slow hay feeding.
Our poly hay rings are easy to use, set up, and assemble. Here’s a video to show you just how:
Importance of mesh hole sizes.
All horses are different and acquire different nutritional needs. That’s why we carry three different mesh sizes to accommodate the hay type, hard keepers, easy keepers, young and old. These sizes available are 1.5”, 2” and 3”. Talk to one of our feeding specialists to help decide which mesh size will benefit your horse.
Herd management: offer multiple feeding locations.
If you have more than four horses, ensure separate slow feeders, so that each horse has availability to hay. If possible, offer multiple feeding locations or place the feeder farther away from shelters or water source; this will also help encourage movement.
With multiple feeding locations, dominant horses will keep the herd moving, while the less dominant ones will use the other food sources.
Feed quality forage.
As we mentioned before, providing good quality hay - no old, moldy, dusty or frozen hay should be fed with a slow hay feeder. It has no nutritional value, can even make your horse sick and be a cause of damage to the netting. If you make changes to a horse’s diet, change gradually.