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One paint horse and one bay horse eating from hay pillow slow feeders on the ground in their paddock with a brown fence and green trees in the background.

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7 Slow Feed Do’s and Don’ts for Horses

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!

Two horses eating together from Hay Pillow slow feeders on the ground
Offer a minimum of one location per individual. Pictured is the Standard Hay Pillow slow feed hay bag.

​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. 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 to offer enough slow fed forage.

Don’t expect any one slow feeder to slow the rate of consumption 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, your horse can typically eat more and maintain or lose weight. A slow, steady flow of forage will help to regulate insulin spikes. A slow metabolic rate (body survival mode) created from forage restriction may take some time to speed up. Include routine exercise.​

See our posts Slow Feeding - Transition Tips & Techniques and How I Choose the Best Slow Feeder for more helpful tips.

3)  Do Offer Multiple Feeding Locations - Regardless of the Enclosure Size

Mobility promotes gut motility, increases metabolic rate, and allows your horse to choose where he is the 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. Keep in mind, not all slow feed devices are appropriate for all weather conditions. During inclement weather, you may need more than one type of feeder for under cover and outside use. See our tips for slow feed options by weather condition/environment.

When 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 are four Standard Hay Pillow slow feed hay bags set out for three horses.

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 - or injures - your horse. Stress and/or frustration increases gastric acid production and defeats the purpose. 

Bonus:  Potential Safety Risks & Tips

Slow feeder safety is becoming a hot topic and rightfully so. As with any device, there are potential risks (including, but not limited to, damage to teeth, gums and lips and entanglement).

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.

See our post Horse Slow Feeder Safety Tips to learn:

  • The three primary causes for damage to lips, teeth and gums
  • Tips for using varied slow feed surfaces
  • Tips when shopping for a new slow feeder

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 necessary. Although hanging bags is not optimum, if you must, you can minimize adverse physical effects:

  • If your horse is barefoot, hang it low, around 4" off the ground when empty
  • For shod livestock, hang it just high enough to be out of strike range when empty

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 barn staff 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 any more. 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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Monique Warren, Hay Pillow Founder with the Hay Pillow Slow Feeder product line - standard ground hay pillow, mini hay pillow, hanging hay pillow & horse trailer manger hay pillow

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, digestive and hoof health articles to publications such as Equine Wellness, The Journal, The Naturally Healthy Horse, Natural Horse Magazine, Nicker News, The Horse's Hoof and Miniature Horse World Magazine. Equine nutrition and horses feet are her passions. She resides in Southern California.

Monique's Story

2 Comments

  • Hi Marcee,
    Hay Pillows are popular for a variety of farm animals. Check out our blog post Slow Feed Solutions for Farm Animals – Goats, Sheep, Alpacas & More

    Hay Pillow Inc
  • Hello
    I have 6 of these great hay bags for my horses
    I am getting 2 baby goats when they are able can they use these or will they chew them up?
    Thx Marcer

    Marcee Nash

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