By Monique Warren
Although Hay Pillow slow feed bags were initially designed for horses, mules and donkeys, we quickly learned just how popular they became for other farm and zoo animals. Free choice forage is beneficial for all herbivores including ruminants such as goats and sheep; camelids including llamas, alpacas and camels; and monogastrics such as horses, donkeys, mules and zebras.
Read on to learn how you and your farm (or zoo) animals can benefit from slow fed free choice forage.
Slow feeding hay requires individuals to eat smaller amounts over a longer period of time. This concept simulates natural free-choice foraging - and provides a host of physical and mental benefits. A slow feeding program can be accomplished by using a variety of slow feeders best suited to your unique environment, weather conditions and species.
Browsers Vs. Grazers
Herbivores are prey animals. Sight is one of their main forms of defense. Considering they are designed to forage for 16-20 hours a day, their head, neck and eye placement is designed to maximize their vision while foraging to detect predators.
Browsers, such as goats, alpacas, llamas and camels, are designed to primarily forage on leaves, buds and twigs from shrubs, bushes or trees. Therefore, their eyes are positioned centered and more upright on their head with their neck naturally in a more upright position.
Grazing animals, such as sheep, horses, donkeys, mules and zebras are designed to primarily forage on grasses and vegetation in close proximity to the ground. Their eyes are positioned high on the sides of the head with a lower natural neck position.
Although browsers graze and grazers browse, always consider your animal's natural design when choosing a slow feeder. Do they primarily forage by grazing with a lower natural neck position? Or do they primarily forage by browsing, with a more natural upright head position?
Browsers (goats, alpacas and llamas) will be most comfortable with a hanging slow feeder while grazers (sheep, horses, donkeys and mules) are better suited to foraging from a ground slow feeder, where they can eat in a natural grazing position.
We do not recommend using netting or mesh devices with horned animals.
7 Benefits of Free Choice Slow Fed Forage
1. Drastically Reduce Wasted Hay
Slow feeders prevent trampling of hay, contain it in windy conditions and prevent individuals from picking through it to eat only the tastiest morsels. At the top of the "wasters" list are goats and sheep - beat them at their own game by slow feeding!
2. Relaxed Mental State
Herbivores are mentally and physically designed to forage throughout the day and night. Hierarchy will always exist within a herd; however, the majority of herd aggressive behavior is associated with food aggression. If free choice forage is available, the intensity of dominant combative behavior typically subsides regardless of species - resulting in a more harmonious herd. Providing multiple feeder locations - always with one more location than animal count - allows the less dominant individuals access to forage when forced to move by the more dominant members. Having an "extra" feeder ensures there is always one "free" forage site open.
3. Improved Digestion
Optimal digestion and fermentation require adequate chew time and movement - mobility stimulates gut motility. Providing forage free-choice in multiple locations will encourage both.
Trickle feeding throughout the day and night will:
Chew time is critical mentally and physically for herbivores. Using slow feeders increases chew time per pound and further reduces particle size. Chewing activates saliva production, which provides moisture (higher saliva to forage ratio) and aids in digestion. It's a perfect balance if we follow nature's design.
4. Minimize or Alleviate Boredom
Horses, goats, sheep and the like all benefit psychologically when allowed to continuously slow feed. An occupied animal or herd is less likely to develop vices stemming from boredom, such as:
5. Weight Management
Hay is grass with the water reduced - each mouthful is a more concentrated source of calories. Hay contains seven to eight times more calories than live grass per pound. Grass is 70 to 80% water as opposed to sun cured hay at 5 to 10%. If your herd is overweight, slow feeding will help to regulate insulin spikes, metabolism, and secretion of cortisol from stress. If appropriate forage is available at all times, they can typically eat more and maintain or lose weight.
For underweight individuals, slow feeding can aid in digestion and assimilation of calories and nutrients.
6. Natural Wear of Teeth
Increased chew time allows teeth to wear more naturally.
7. Omission of Stress in Your Life
Meals are stressful to your herd, and you! Farm animal guardians experience an enormous weight lifted off their shoulders when they switch to slow feeding and are no longer concerned about feeding times.
Always consider nutrition when dealing with any health or mental issue. Feeding a balanced diet (low in non-structural carbohydrates for overweight individuals) and offering slow fed free-choice forage is healthiest for your herd.
Herbivores were not designed to thrive on a high-calorie, nutrient-deficient diet comprised of meals. By providing free-choice forage, you will have a healthier, more content herd with the bonus of no longer being committed to multiple feedings day and night!
See more critters in our Barnyard Buddies Gallery
What Our Farm Animal Friends Say
"A short note of what I love about hay pillows is difficult but I will try! Hay pillows are easy to fill, and produce much less waste of hay. They take away messy hay feeders and round bales, and create more harmony with Alpha behaviors in the pasture! My horse, Oreo was overeating and always in a muzzle, which was wearing his teeth. Moving him to hay 24/7 has made his dentist very happy as there is no more wear on his teeth, and we know exactly how much he is eating. Evaluating consumption with hay pillows is so easy! Even the big old boy Connor, who has very worn teeth has no trouble with the hay pillow! The holes are the perfect size. The goat girls, Princess and Chunny, do have hay in their little goat shed, but they prefer to come out and eat with the big boys! I ❤ my hay pillows! " ~Joyce~
"The mini hay pillow has improved not only the lives of my mini horses, but my goats and sheep, too. I can now leave hay out all day for them to eat in a more natural way... not to mention the money I am saving in less waste." ~Tiffanie~
"We have two horses and three goats who love the 2 Standard Hay Pillows we have. The goats love to lay against a full pillow and munch in the sunshine on these cold winter days, but often the horses bump them away. All the animals are voting for more hay pillows (they prefer them over the other hay bags, nets and slow feeders we've tried)." ~Makendra~
"I love this hanging bag for my goats. They now have hay available 24/7. I no longer have to spend time cleaning up wasted trampled hay or go out to feed early in the morning." ~ Diane ~
"We recently purchased 2 mini hay pillows for the Grevy’s zebras at the Sacramento Zoo. The girls love them! All three of our older gals spend more time moving around the exhibit eating in a natural head down grazing position. And they love to throw the pillows around as well. Wonderfully enriching for our animals and great for the guests watching them eat and play." ~Melissa~
"My three mini-donkey Jennets LOVE their Hay Pillows. I love the savings from reduced hay loss, easier to clean stall floors, reduced aggression since each has their own pillow and their attention is focused on it not each other and my goal is that it will be successful in their losing weight without my being hated for it." ~Fred~
"The hay pillow isn't just great for horses! Clarabelle the mini zebu cow loves her new mini sized hay pillow. It allows her to eat much slower to keep her gut moving (after a very scary situation where her gut was not moving at all!) She loves it and can still easily eat all of the hay inside." ~ Sarah~
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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 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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Monique Warren invented the Hay Pillow® slow feeder and is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc.