Towards the end of the year my dry paddocks can turn into a sea of mud in the space of a few rainstorms. And hands up all those who have watched in frustration as the
gold dust hay gets trampled underfoot and turned into a soggy mess and the pones refuse to eat it because "it's all mucky"?
As barefoot beasties, my horses live on a diet of grass hay with a seasoning of alfalfa and I like to "free feed" as much as possible. Trouble is, greedy guts that they are, given the opportunity they'll scoff the lot in less than an hour then stand around pretending they're starving until the next feeding. For this reason, I've turned to "slow feeders" to keep the pones a'munchin while limiting the speed of their intake and keeping their whale-like proportions under control.
Best of all, using slow feeders, the hay stays mostly in the bag or in their mouths - with little lost in between, and virtually none ending up as expensive soil enhancer.
With slow feeders, the horses are reduced to plucking wisps of hay out over time, more closely mimicking natural grazing, as opposed to stuffing hay in as quickly as they can (the way they'd like to).
There are all sorts of slow feeders on the market, from basic hay nets to more elaborate (and expensive) dispensers. Whilst I'd like to own some of the higher-end feeders, with six horses squabbling over the food and knowing that my paddocks slope so anything unattached ends up rolling to the bottom, I need to stick with options that won't break the bank because I'm going to need a lot of them.
My current favorites are the small mesh hay bags sold online for less than $10 each. I've found that these will last at least a year (if not longer) before they start to suffer and even then I can usually keep them going with minor repairs.
Fergus tends to be very hard on bags because of his patented "get the hay out quicker by grabbing the bag and shaking it vigorously" method.
It doesn't matter what kind of bag it is, apparently the smash and grab trick is the way to go. Other lesser bags don't last long under his ministrations. This one below lasted less than one feeding:
The $10 small mesh hay bags are usually a 2" gauge:
but earlier this summer I decided to splash out on a longer-lasting, more robust hay net that had the added benefit of having 1" gauge holes:
This forced the horses to eat slower still - keeping them busy throughout the day. They seem much more relaxed using this feeding system - although they're pleased when I show up at feeding time, it has limited the amount of bickering that goes on. The horses no longer act like Starving Marvins and there's a lot less posturing and jealous guarding going on. They'll nibble for a bit and then wander off to get a drink. Right now, I can feed six horses using 2-3 hay bags because the top dogs are no longer standing over their prizes, causing the lesser mortals to go without.
The new, more expensive hay bag also came with a front-loader - a metal frame that you thread the bag onto and then attach to your rail fence or panel. The flakes of hay are posted through the frame into the bag - much more convenient than filling hay nets.
I use the snap they provide to keep the hay from being pushed out the top by over-enthusiastic pone muzzles when they flip the bag around:
So far, the new bag is lasting well and showing no signs of deterioration (despite Fergus' best efforts). I especially like it because of the large amount of hay it will hold (four + large flakes)(and they make larger ones!) and the fact that they make it in several mesh sizes to suit your horses' particular needs.
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California