Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hay balls

The problem with having your horses live on pasture during the winter is how best to feed their hay. The easiest way to feed is to just drop the hay on the ground in piles. The problem with this is the hay a) blows away and b) gets pooped on. Even at $3 a bale, hay is just too darned expensive to waste that way.

There is a hay feeder in the pasture that looks sort of like this:
Too much metal
The problem is that it's WAY too small for four horses and it's made of metal, not to mention that it forces the horses to eat with their heads in the air- not what I want for Gwen. We had a similar feeder when I was younger and it rusted out, creating nasty edges for horses to cut themselves on. I don't even want my horses near something like that.

Because of that, I decided to experiment with slow feeding this winter. The idea behind slow feeding is to simulate grazing by limiting the amount of hay the horses can get in their mouth at one time, minimize hay wastage, and make the hay last longer. Ideally this way your horses have hay at all times. There are a bunch of options for slow feeders, many of which I found really interesting, but given my current situation, boarding, I decided to go for the easiest option possible: Haybags.

I found some fairly inexpensive bags with 2" holes to try. Unfortunately there aren't as big as I'd like, they can only fit about 4 flakes of hay and I was really hoping to be able to fit a half bale in them (I'll keep looking to see if I can find some larger bags), but they still seem to do the trick. I fill up the bags every night and 24 hours later there's usually hay left in them (Mark feeds loose hay in the morning). I call them hay balls because that's what they look like:
Gwen is concentrating
Nom nom nom
Rocky and Butch chowing down
It took them a few days to get used to the bags. Interestingly, the mares went for them much sooner than the boys did. Coriander gave me some ugly faces at first. I've been using them for a few weeks now and they all seem to have accepted the bags. Sometimes they'll even choose them over loose hay on the ground. They must like the challenge.

If you're considering slow feeding there are a TON of options out there, even for round bales. If you are concerned about hay wastage it's worth it to check them out.
A bagged round bale
Here are some links I found helpful:
One last thing: my horses and Mark's horses are barefoot, haybags on the ground might be an issue for those with shoes.


    1. awesome post! I have no choice in the matter as of now. Bodhi eats out of a stand like the one above. I see the benefits of slow feeders for sure but why are the hay stands bad?

    2. Aside from the rusting issue-I don't trust anything out in the pasture that a horse could get a leg stuck in. Metal doesn't give, so if there's a scuffle by the feeder and somebody gets stuck in it, they're a goner. I know someone who very nearly lost a horse that way.

      Hay stands put the hay way up in the air where they drop dust and chaff into eyes, ears and noses. Not very healthy.

      Eating with their heads in the air also triggers an adrenaline response instead of an endorphin response. Totally undesirable, especially if you've got an emotional horse.

      Having said all that, my horses before were never injured eating from a hay stand and they had it for years. Bodhi will probably be just fine. I just decided to go another way because I could.

    3. My biggest fear about haynets, even when I hang them up, is that they can get their feet caught in them even without shoes, and since they're made of nylon rope, a horse can even get it wrapped around it's tongue (I had a horse almost cut off her tongue on a piece of twine one time). I tried looking more closely at your pictures and it seems yours might be a bit different, though, than the haynets I'm used to. Maybe a different weave so they don't move to make an opening for a hoof and then close around it like the ones I know of can do? Do you have a link for where you got them? Very good idea getting them to graze, though. I go through the same dilemma myself, about how best to feed their hay....

    4. Eek, Jessie, that's scary. You'll have to relate that tongue story sometime.

      Here's a link to the kind of bags I got: http://www.doversaddlery.com/product.asp?pn=X1-27293&tid=froogle&CATALOG_CODE=1X814&EID=X1814001&zmam=1460880&zmas=1&zmac=49&zmap=X1-27293.

      The knots don't slide around at all on these and the mesh is small enough that there's no way they could get a foot in there. A mini couldn't get a foot in there. They came with a really long rope to close and hang them with, but I scrapped those and just use baling twine instead. I can cut the ends of the twine off so there aren't long lengths of rope hanging around every place.

      I think sometimes it's an unsolvable dilemma. If a horse is bound and determined to get hurt, they will, no matter how diligent you are. Heck, my vet told me about a horse that suffocated himself in a padded stall.

    5. This is such a good idea! I've seen all types of slow hay feeders but they are usually made out of railroad ties and metal mesh and not only are expensive and hard to make but could be dangerous. This is such a good idea, I think I'll order a couple bags to try out :)

    6. Metal in horse pastures just plain scares me, I plan to avoid it when at all possible.