By Monique Warren
Slow feeders and slow feed hay nets offer numerous benefits for our beloved horses, donkeys, mules and their barnyard buddies. As with any device, there are potential risks (including, but not limited to, damage to teeth, gums and lips and entanglement). The vast majority of incidents are preventable. Read on to learn general safety measures to follow when choosing and using your slow feeders.
Slow feeder safety is becoming a hot topic and rightfully so. As a slow feed expert, I have learned that safety is determined by the choices you make:
The vast majority of incidents stem from unintentional pilot error. You can eliminate or greatly reduce the possibility of injury or entanglement with the following tips.
Ensure Your Horse Uses His Lips
First and foremost, your primary objective should be to ensure your horse has the ability to use his lips to calmly gather hay and easily grasp the ends with his teeth to extract it – similar to grazing behavior.
In nature, grazing and browsing animals gather forage with their lips, grasp and break it off with their incisors and chew with their molars.
If an individual is required to scrape teeth across an abrasive surface to extract hay, the probability of damage to lips, gums or teeth is almost certain. If your horse is currently scraping his teeth across a slow feeder, inspect his lips, teeth and gums immediately.
3 Primary Reasons Your Horse Cannot Use His Lips
The following three factors are the most common reasons for damage to lips, teeth and gums - regardless of the slow feed device.
Tip - One Size Does Not Fit All
Each horse varies in patience level and ability. You may have a herd of 9 that successfully uses a particular slow feeder design and mesh/opening size, yet add a new herd member and he may experience damage to his mouth in a day.
The most appropriate slow feeder type and opening size is determined on an individual basis.
When offering slow fed forage to 2 or more individuals in the same enclosure, choose a mesh/opening size to accommodate the least adept or patient individual.
Usage Tips for Common Slow Feed Surfaces
Rigid surfaces such as metal grates and hard plastic holes are nonconforming and flatten the ends of hay. To ensure your horse can use his lips successfully, use loose fill and choose an opening large enough so that his lips can reach into the opening unobstructed.
Webbing mesh (1” wide web) reduces the overall surface area to extract hay, thereby flattening the ends of the hay. If you use a large enough opening size to allow your horse to manipulate hay with his lips and easily extract with his teeth, it can be a great option.
Netting has the ability to conform to the hay while providing a much larger surface area to gather hay from. If loaded properly (not too full), your horse can manipulate the hay with his lips and teeth (no scraping) allowing the ends to protrude. Again, key is that the mesh size does not exceed your horse’s patience level.
During my 4-year experimental journey (2008-2012) of creating a slow feeder that met my needs, I ultimately determined netting was the most effective for slow feeding. However, both hard-sided and webbing mesh devices are successful for many. We are not discouraging their use as long as they are effective and cause no harm.
Entanglement Possibilities & Considerations
Including, but not limited to:
Tips When Shopping for a New Slow Feeder
Many of us make the switch to slow feeding with good intentions – whether it's to introduce the benefits of trickle feeding, minimize hay waste, or to manage weight.
Please don’t sacrifice your beloved companion’s physical and/or mental health in an attempt to slow his rate of consumption to the point of injury or frustration.
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About the Author:
Monique Warren invented the Hay Pillow® slow feeder and is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc.
Warren has been an equine guardian for over forty years and slow-feed advocate for over 10 years. She contributes equine nutrition and digestive and hoof health articles to publications such as Equine Wellness, The Journal, The Naturally Healthy Horse, Natural Horse Magazine, Nicker News, Horse Back Magazine, The Horse's Hoof, and Miniature Horse World Magazine. Equine nutrition and horses feet are her passions. She resides in Southern California.
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