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!
1) Do Consider Ease of Loading
Don’t discount slow feeding entirely due to the time required to load your feeders. 10 minutes once or twice a day is a minimal time investment for your horse to have forage available 24/7.
2) Do Provide Access to Forage 24/7
Meal fed individuals are typically anxious at feeding time and more determined to eat as fast as possible. This can result in possible damage to teeth, gums and the slow feed device or even storage of body fat from stress. Provide appropriate slow feeders to accommodate enough hay between feedings so there is always hay left. If your horse won't be "fed" for 12 or 14 hours, you may need a bale net or multiple slow feed bags/nets in different locations.
Don’t expect any one slow feeder to have the capacity to provide a rate of consumption slow enough to provide forage 24/7 when you offer limited amounts of hay (for example, feeding 1% of body weight in a 24 hour period.) If appropriate forage is available at all times, they can typically eat more and maintain or lose weight by eliminating the stress associated with meals. A slow metabolic rate (body survival mode) created from forage restriction may take some time to speed up. Include routine exercise.
3) Do Offer Multiple Feeding Locations - Regardless of the Enclosure Size
Mobility promotes gut motility, increases metabolic rate, and allows them to choose where they are most mentally and/or physically comfortable. Horses enjoy foraging for food. They were not designed to be stationary for extended periods of time.
Don’t provide one feeding location and expect voluntary movement.
More than one horse, offer a minimum of one location per individual.
If your horse is an only child, provide a minimum of 2 slow feed stations to encourage movement.
Pictured is the Standard Hay Pillow slow feed hay bag.
4) Do Experiment with Slow Feeders & Mesh Sizes
Experimentation is key to determining the best mesh size (for overweight individuals) that keeps your horse nibbling and enables your horse to extract hay without frustration. Frustration is counterproductive.
Don’t continue the use of any slow feeder that stresses your horse. Stress and/or frustration increases gastric acid production and defeats the purpose.
5) Do Feed from Ground Level to Enable a Natural Grazing Posture & Relaxed Mental State
Don’t mount or hang a slow feeder any higher than 4” off the ground for barefoot individuals. Hanging bags are not optimum, but if you must, you can minimize adverse physical effects. If the rope length is long enough for possible entanglement, slide a piece of PVC pipe over the rope and attach a swivel clip at the bottom to hang the bag from.
6) Do Offer Tested Low NSC (10% or below) Straight Grass Hay for Overweight Individuals
Consult an equine nutritionist to ensure all vitamin/mineral/protein requirements are being met in proper ratios/amounts and unique conditions addressed.
Don’t offer the only source of forage in a new slow feeder. To ease the transition, feed as you normally would and offer the slow feeder in addition. Often horses will choose eating from a slow feeder over loose hay - especially if it engages their natural grazing instincts.
7) Do Buy Multiple Slow Feeders if You Board Your Horse
You can fill them ahead of time if they are not willing to refill them. And using them outside in a run or paddock will prevent the hay from blowing around while you encourage your horse to move between feeding stations. It’s a wise investment and you won’t spend anymore. A device that is used 25% of the time will last 4 times longer!
Don’t expect all boarding facilities to be on board with slow feeding - so make sure you check with your barn in advance.
Did You Know?
Most slow feed manufacturers are willing to offer advice on how to maximize your slow feed investment - call them. A phone call may make or break the success of their product for your individual situation and goals. Take advantage of their knowledge and experience.
Helpful How-to Resources for Slow Feeding
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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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