By Monique Warren
Last Updated December 30, 2019. Originally published June 15, 2016.
Slow feeding requires the horse to eat smaller amounts over a longer period of time. This concept simulates natural free-choice foraging - and provides a host of benefits you might not be aware of.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are meals consumed by humans but are not natural for a horse. Equines are grazing herbivores with a digestive system designed for - and benefiting from - constant uptake.
If your equine does not have forage available 24/7 - and is fed traditional "meals" - consider implementing a slow-feeding program to keep them nibbling longer. Read on to learn about slow feeder options and the nine ways your horse can benefit from a slow-feed program.
My quest to offer slow fed free choice forage began in 2008 because I had an insulin-resistant mare, Lily, that I was determined to keep happy and healthy. While researching and learning the importance of slow feeding, and eating from ground level, I could not find a slow feeder to purchase that was 1) safe, and 2) slowed down my horse’s consumption rate enough. In addition, ease of “loading” and the weight of the feeder became key challenges. And so began my 4 year experimental journey of creating a slow feeder that met my needs.
During that time I bought, designed, built and prototyped a variety of slow feeders and slow feed hay bags for my and Lily's use. Following are the pros and cons I discovered while experimenting with my own version of each slow feeder type: hard-sided, webbing mesh, and netting.
Are your activities scheduled around - and limited by - your feeding schedule? Are you feeding multiple times throughout the day and night? If so, consider yourself a prisoner of feeding (POF)!
Is there a way to free yourself? Absolutely! You will be happier and your herd will love you for it. More relaxed herd = more relaxed guardians and vice versa.
For most of us, we become a POF because we don't want our beloved equines to be overweight or without forage for an extended period of time. And so the multiple feedings begin! I too was a POF: getting up early to feed in the morning, making sure I was home to feed lunch, and feeding late in the evening hours (horses only sleep 3-4 hours throughout a 24 hour period).
Following are 7 helpful tips and realistic expectations to consider when using any brand of slow feeder or small mesh hay net. This is valuable information whether you currently use slow feeders or are debating to try them!
The vicious cycle of meal fed, hungry hoovers can be remedied. We feed meals due to convenience or concerns about a horse's weight - and rightfully so. Obesity promotes inflammation and a host of other health challenges. However, meals restrict access to forage, which presents its own adverse effects - both mentally and physically. In this post, we'll discuss alternative approaches to feeding that can lead to happier, healthier horses and less stress at feeding time.
Take advantage of the least palatable varieties of forage to naturally slow consumption rate by feeding them seperately. Immature cuttings of cool season grasses and alfalfa are very palatable and highly digestible (more concentrated source of calories per pound). For most horses, donkeys, goats and other barnyard buddies if you blend palatable and less palatable varieties it will result in the same enthusiasm and rate of consumption.
If your horse attacks their hay or herd mates for food, this is not "normal". They may be Insulin Resistant - a voracious appetite is one of the many signs of IR. Or they are stressed due to waiting for and receiving meals - instead of always having forage available.
If your current "slow feeder" is not slow enough, it will take time and experimentation to supply your equine with a limited amount of hay AND have it available 24/7.
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