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!