Does my horse need a slow feeder?
Maybe is the answer to that question. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and considerations you need to think about. Slow feeders can be great horse management tools, with many possible benefits for you horse:
-More natural approach to feeding, mimics grazing. Slow feeders are designed to let you horse get one or two slivers of hay at a time, so eating one flake can take hours and hours!
-Can help to manage boredom and boredom associated vices, like cribbing. If you horse is munching all day, there’s much less time to eat fencing or crib on shelters and waterers.
-Saves time and labor when feeding a barn full of horses. I would much rather have one large feeding in the morning or every couple of days than several times a day.
-Minimizes mess, now huge piles to get mixed with bedding or earth. Every barn has those messy horses - who use their lunch as bedding and stir it in, wasting food and creating more to clean.
-Can decrease ulcers by stimulating stomach acid buffers all the time from all day saliva secretion. Saliva naturally buffers the hydrochloric acid that your horse’s stomach secretes all day long. Slow feeders allow this buffer to be produced for longer periods, thus potentially helping ulcers.
What things do you need to consider?
-What type of slow feeder will work for you? You have hay nets that hang relatively high, but do not allow your horse to eat from the ground level. I wonder what happens to their toplines and neck muscles if they eat from shoulder level or higher over time. You also have mesh bags, which can be fixed to the bottom of stall walls, to allow for the head to be down. You also have some types of boxes with slats or mesh over the top that also allow for your horse’s head to be down. If you feed your horses on big round bales, you can get mesh nets to cover them (for barefoot horses) or you can get "houses" to put around them. Horses access the round bale through the house windows.
-Is your horse shod or barefoot? Any mesh bag or similar net type slow feeder that is on the ground or ground level should not be used around shod horses. At all. The box type of slow feeders are best for shod horses.
-Are you feeding individuals or a herd? This will influence the size and quantity of feeders that you need. Don’t count on all horses in a group being able to share one small feeder. You will likely need more. A good rule of thumb for a herd is to create one more feeding station than you have horses.
-Can you devote some initial set up time so your horse can learn to use one? Often, you will need to experiment to find out how long your feeder goes between refills. This will depend on the size of the openings. You may also find that your horse needs to have a lunch or dinner meal as normal for a few days or so to make the transition to slow feeding all the time.
-Is your horse fed one type of hay or several types? If you feed a mix of hays, you will need to figure out how to “mix” them so your horse gets the same amounts he’s used to over time.
What have your slow feeder experiences been?