How I Chose the Best Slow Feeder for My Horse
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.
Why I'm Sharing My Experience
I know what it's like to want the best for your equine partner, to embark on an exploratory journey, and to be overwhelmed in the process. For those of you who are new to slow feeding free choice forage - or are still experimenting with finding the best slow feeders to accommodate a 24/7 feeding protocol - I offer my findings and lessons learned in hopes the information may help you in your journey.
My Evaluation Criteria
- How effective the feeders were.
- Ease of loading/transport - I wanted the ability to offer numerous feeding stations to encourage movement that were quick to load and not burdensome to distribute.
- Potential harm to the horse. Harm can occur from pilot error regardless of the slow feeder device. For example: 1) An opening size that is too small causing frustration, which is counter-productive to lowering stress; 2) Over loading/packing hay too tight making it difficult to access; and 3) Anxious meal fed individuals with little to no patience who can damage a feeder and/or injure themselves.
Full Disclosure - While we ultimately determined netting was the most effective for slow feeding, both hard-sided and webbing mesh devices are successful for many. We are not discouraging their use as long as they are effective, encourage movement and cause no harm!
Hard Sided Slow Feeders
- Effectiveness - My experience was that both of these either fed too fast or the horses could not eat at all with smaller openings because the ends of the hay were flattened. There was no in between in regards to rate of consumption.
- Ease of loading and transporting - Loading with hay was fairly quick, although I needed to use a wheel barrow to cart them around due to the weight and size. Ability to offer numerous locations was expensive and time consuming.
- Potential harm - The feeder on the left with holes has the ability to wear enamel off teeth and metal grates on the right can cause grooves in teeth.
- Effectiveness - My experience was that it fed too fast or the horses could not eat at all with smaller openings because the ends of the hay were flattened. There was no in between in regards to rate of consumption. The majority of these bags have the opening at the top, which may allow access to large mouthfuls of hay! This may also require the bag to be hung higher, which requires the horse to eat in a very awkward posture.
- Ease of loading and transporting - Loading the hay was easy. Ability to offer numerous locations can be challenging if you don't have appropriate fence or trees to hang them from.
- Potential harm - This material has the ability to wear enamel off teeth if the horse is required to scrape his teeth across the webbing to extract hay. If the mesh size is large enough to pull hay out with the lips, it may feed too fast for some but this does preserve the enamel.
- Effectiveness - Enables the horse to use his lips and teeth - experiencing the most natural way to gather and consume forage. Netting allows a smaller opening while enabling the individual to extract hay without frustration. If loaded properly (not too full), your horse can manipulate the hay with his lips allowing the ends to protrude. Foolproof closure in the form of drawstring or zipper, no cheating! Standard Hay Pillows, Mini Hay Pillows and slow feed hay nets are appropriate for use on the ground for barefoot individuals. Hanging nets/bags can be hung as low as possible to allow a more natural grazing position for barefoot individuals.
Tip: to avoid the possibility of entanglement if the eye hook, fence or bar is higher than you would like to hang the bag from, attach a rope to it, slide a piece of PVC pipe over the rope and attach a swivel clip at the bottom to hang the bag from.
- Ease of loading and transporting - Quick to load and transport. Ability to offer numerous locations - the Standard and Mini Hay Pillows require no mounting. Simply toss on the ground anywhere!
- Potential harm - Has the ability to wear enamel off teeth only if the bag or net is filled too tight. Loose fill allows for extraction with lips. Not recommended for use on the ground with shod livestock due to the dangers involved in using any mesh material that can potentially get caught in a horseshoe. See our Slow Feed Solutions By Enclosure Type & Weather Condition page to explore a variety of options for shod and barefoot horses.
Why Netting Was Most Effective
- It conforms to the hay enabling ends to protrude - allowing a smaller opening without frustration or requiring the individual to scrape his teeth across an abrasive surface to extract hay.
- Easy to load.
- Requires little to no preparation to provide multiple feeding stations.
- Foolproof closures, no cheating!
There You Have It - 4 Years of Prototyping and 10+ Years of Slow Feeding!
The icing on the cake? I'm no longer a prisoner of feeding because I devised a methodical healthy way to offer slow fed free choice forage and have a career I'm super passionate about. Here's to happier, healthier horses!
More Helpful Slow Feed Resources
- Free Choice Forage Action Plan
- Are You a Prisoner of Feeding? Here's How I Broke Free
- Feeding Miniature Horses & Donkeys: Why Slow Fed Forage is Best
- 6 Great Reasons to Feed Your Horse from Ground Level
- 9 Benefits of Slow Feeding Horses
- 7 Slow Feed Dos and Don'ts for Horses
- 7 Easy Ways to Help Prevent Colic
- Never Exercise Horses on an Empty Stomach...Ever
- Why You Shouldn't Transport Horses On An Empty Stomach
- Keeping Horses Warm Naturally – Internally and Externally
- Why Most Horse Prefer to Eat Outside
- Sand Colic - The Surprising (Simple) Cure & Prevention