Tuesday, August 9, 2011

slow feeder

Our horses stand around much of the day, maybe playing with friends, or resting, but often waiting for breakfast or waiting for dinner. They get anxious to eat (as anyone knows who feeds too late one day), then devour their hay so quickly. They were meant to graze all day, but there are few of us who can provide that.

I've been intrigued by the slow feeding movement for awhile, and more motivated when a really great independent nutritionist (Clair Thunes, Summit Equine Nutrition) at the recent HorseExpo event talked more in detail. I did lots of research myself, enjoying the paddock paradise wiki and thinking I could make something myself.

There are so many types of feeders: bags and barrels and timers and grates and more. I decided to make a simple barrel and net feeder. It was pretty easy, until I realized that Major's shelter didn't have an easy way to mount it. It needed to be easy to fill for the barn staff (they have a tough enough job!) but at the height needed Major kept trying to eat out of the top, and an easy solution for all couldn't be found.

Since I didn't really have the time to make something else, I decided to try a basic, well-reviewed net, the Freedom Feeder. I choose this one because I thought I could easily install it on the pipe panel for Major munch on and the barn staff to fill.

True slow feeding is best: you keep the feeder full 24/7. At first the piggy horses eat more, but when they realize food is always there, they begin to self-regulate, not worrying when their next meal is coming. They stabilize at an amount, usually not any more than they were already being fed, without wasting hay on the ground, grinding it into the dirt, or otherwise being disgusting on it. If I had my own barn, I would do this for every horse.

Major eyes his new freedom feeder
Since I board Major, the next best solution is just to slow him down, so dinner is done in three hours and not one. It's better for his digestive system to have food in it longer (like the constant grazing they evolved with). The feeder was easy to install, opening like an envelope to the outside to fill, and Major enjoyed helping by chewing on the net, standing in the way, and not even flinching when we needed to remove a board with the power drill. I did a test run, adding some grass hay (his usual meal) and he was a little confused at first but just started munching.

The feeder has been in use for two weeks, no damage yet. If a horse chews a hole in the net you need to sew it back up so he's not rewarded by getting a big bite. I'll be keeping an eye on it, but so far, so good. I watched Major contentedly eating, and then saw the poor mare across the way, who is on tiny rations as her pasture is too lush and she is too fat. A slow feeder would make her work for it, and she wouldn't be done in 10 minutes, banging at the fence for more.

I'll see how this experiment works, and report on how the net holds up over time.

"How do I eat outta this thing?!"
Major "helping"

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