Slow feed hay nets are very popular for horse owners. They are available to fit all types of bales: from small square bales to large rounds and squares. But how much are they actually helping our horses?
In research I conducted at the University of Minnesota with my advisor Dr. Krishona Martinson, we found that using a slow feed or extreme slow feed net significantly increased time to consumption compared to just feeding on the ground or using a “traditional” hay net. On average, horses were able to consume a meal (about 1% of their body weight in hay per meal, fed twice daily) in about 3 hours when fed on the ground or with a traditional net. When we fed the same amount in a medium-sized net (1 ¾” holes), they took about 5.5 hours, and about 6 hours in an extreme-slow feed net (1 ¼” holes). This is extremely helpful for horse owners who are limited to only be able to feed their horses twice daily.
It is important for horses to have constant access to forage throughout the day, as horses evolved to consume small amounts consistently through each 24 hour period. Horses only have the ability to produce saliva when chewing, and so if long periods of time are spent not eating, stomach pH can be lowered due to limited introduction of buffers (saliva). There has also been an established relationship between limited time consuming forages and development of stereotypies (cribbing, wood chewing, and stall walking for example).
Other benefits of using slow feeders are decreased stress, as our research found that horses that were able to consume for longer periods of time using the slow feed hay nets had lower cortisol levels compared to horses fed on the ground. Researchers also found that waste is significantly decreased when slow feeder nets are used compared to feeding without a net. In one trial, over half of all round bales (55%) was wasted when no feeder was used, compared to only 5% waste with the slow feed round bale net.
There are many situations where slow feed hay nets are a great idea to incorporate into your management plan. However, it does not fit all horses. Instances where you may not want to use one is for underweight horses where you are trying to add weight, and some young horses that may be prone to frustration and can develop some negative habits. If using a round bale net, make sure to use another feeder such as a ring feeder, particularly if your horses have shoes or are wearing blankets. This will avoid horses getting caught in the net.
If you have any questions as to whether using a net is a good idea for your horses, or how you can implement it into your management plan, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Body condition scoring (BCS) is a valuable skill, which we recommend all horse owners and managers practice often on their equine herds. The system was developed to help one visually assess the amount of fat cover on a horse, which of course is tied to their overall health. Too little fat cover is a sign of unthriftiness, while excess fat cover can lead to other problems- such as metabolic disorders. Monitoring changes in body condition, whether it’s your show mount, a broodmare, or your weekend trail warrior, can help you determine the energy balance of your horse’s diet or give you clues to other lurking issues. Your horse’s BCS is one of the first things we’ll ask or help you determine when evaluating your horse and their diet.
The Henneke Horse Body Condition Scoring System is a great tool to use because it utilizes a standard scale, which can then be added to your records and shared with all your equine health care and management professionals. The score can then be tracked for changes over time, rather than trying to rely on memory or a visual weight estimate, which many studies have determined to be unreliable as equine owners consistently over- or underestimate weight by as much as 150-200 pounds. The Henneke system scores fat cover in the following areas: over the ribcage, behind the shoulder, around the withers, along the top of the neck, down the crease of the back, and around the tail head. Evaluating these six fat-accumulating areas of the horse’s body determines where they may lie on the 1 to 9-point scale. The thinnest designation on the scale is a 1, and the fattest is a 9, while a 5 is considered ideal for most equine breeds and body types.
Use the descriptive chart below to help you determine your own horse’s BCS. Be sure to both visually inspect the six fat-collecting areas and palpate the thickness with your hands. Some horses may deposit fat unevenly, so try to give each site its own score and then average them together for best results.
1. Poor – Extremely emaciated. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, hips, and lower pelvic bones project prominently; bone structure of the withers, shoulders and neck are easily noticed. No fatty tissue can be felt.
2. Very Thin – Emaciated. Slight fat cover over base of spine; ribs, tailhead, points of hip and buttock prominent; bone structure of the withers, shoulders, and neck faintly discernable.
3. Thin – Fat buildup about halfway on the spine; slight fat cover over the ribs; spine and ribs easily discernable; tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be identified visually; points of hip appear rounded but easily discernable; points of buttock not distinguishable; withers, shoulders and neck accentuated.
4. Moderately Thin – Slight ridge along the back; faint outline of ribs discernable; fat can be felt around tailhead, but prominence depends on conformation; Hips not discernable; withers, shoulders, and neck not obviously thin.
5. Moderate – Back is flat with no crease; ribs easily felt, but not visually distinguishable; fat around tailhead feels slightly spongy; withers appear rounded over spine; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.
6. Moderately Fleshy – May have slight crease down back; fat over ribs fleshy; fat around tailhead soft; small fat deposits behind shoulders and along the sides of neck and withers.
7. Fleshy – Might have crease down back; individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat; fat around tailhead is soft; fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders and along neck.
8. Fat – Crease down back; difficult to feel ribs; fat around tailhead very soft; area along withers and behind shoulders filled with fat; noticeable thickening of the neck; fat deposited along inner thighs.
9. Extremely Fat- Obvious crease down back. Patchy fat appearing over ribcage; bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulder and along neck; fat along inner thighs may rub together; flank filled with fat.