Here are some of the most commonly asked questions I get regarding feeding with hay nets:

  • Do I hang my nets to keep the horses from eating off the ground and keep the nets clean?

I do not hang my nets as I feel horses need to eat from ground level. They way they are designed, their teeth work best when their heads are down.

The horse’s body has evolved to work most efficiently when eating at ground height. When a horse puts it’s head down to eat the lower jaw drops forward and then when the horse lifts it’s head to chew the jaw slides back. This forward and backward motion helps to grind the teeth and keep them at the optimum length.

This does not occur when the horse is fed with it’s head off the ground from a hay net or rack. This is why it is important to provide food at ground level.

http://www.all-natural-horse-care.com/horse-feeding.html

Their noses drain correctly and they don’t get hay bits, dust and leaves in their eyes, ears and noses when fed at ground level. Horses are not giraffes so they are not designed to graze from tree tops, which is essentially what you are asking them to do if you hang the nets. They will tip their heads, while pulling hay from the net, at an unnatural angle which really effects their poll, TMJ, neck and shoulders.

Horses were made to eat from the ground. They are used to eating off the dirt. If you have sand then you need to put something down like a rubber mat so when they are eating from the ground they aren’t ingesting sand. But horses are used to nosing about in the dirt, browsing for the good bits. They don’t mind it at all!

I do have to tie my nets to posts because of my horse track. The exterior fence is a field fence, but the interior fence is just a single strand of hot wire. It is very easy for them to roll the nets under the hot wire and then not be able to reach it. Before when I just had the big dry lot, I allowed them to roll the hay nets all over the place. It encouraged movement as well as allowing them to eat from ground level. Don’t be afraid to let your nets get dirty!

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  • What size hole should I get?

I’m feeding miniature horses so I like the 1″ holes. That size will slow the minis down and allow them to graze at a flake of hay for several hours. I do have one net that has 1 1/4″ holes but they have that one figured out. It’s usually the first one empty when I do use it! The Hay Chix website does explain what size hole is best for your horse. Do be aware that smart horses figure nets out quickly and you may have to transition to the smaller hole net quite quickly.

I have 6 different nets. 4 of them are small bale nets, one is a micro mini net and one is a half bale net. Because I have had to limit the amount of hay everyone is getting due to Sky’s weight, I tie a knot in the bottom of the small bale nets to make them smaller so I can put just 1 or two flakes in them. I only have the one half bale net or I would just use that size. But I like the option of being able to feed an entire bale, if I have to be gone overnight for instance, so I like the small bale nets.

  • Are they easy to fill?

I find the nets very easy to fill. The only time I have trouble with them is when they are frozen. Then I can’t get them open enough to stuff the hay in. Sometimes the tie ropes are frozen into the ice around the bottom of the T-Posts as well so then I have to either wait for a sunny day or take a bucket of hot water out and pour over them so I can get them out of the ice. If they are wet I find them just as easy to fill as when they are dry. When the wind is howling I have to use the nets or my hay just blows away before the ponies can eat it!

  • Do they hold up?

Short answer. Yes. I have had a few of my nets for 5 years and they still look new! I have one that is fraying a bit at the seam, but it’s still works and is holding up. My ponies are not easy on the nets as some have assumed. They paw them aggressively, they bite them and shake them. They used to carry them around when I didn’t have them tied. Zorro likes to stand on them while he is eating. So no they are not gentle with them or easy on them.

zorrostandingonnet

A couple years ago I had a Hay Pillow. Aside from hay getting stuck in the zipper, then the zipper freezing in the winter, then the zipper pull breaking, my big horse used it just fine. He wasn’t easy on nets either and would often be seen walking around with the Hay Pillow in his mouth. BUT the very first time Sky used the Hay Pillow she chewed a hole through the netting in about 15 minutes, then proceeded to shred it all over the pen. The zipper was definitely broken then! In my experience the Hay Chix nets hold up very well.

Over on the right hand side of this page there is a graphic you can click on to save 20% on your Hay Chix order! If you are in the Bozeman Montana area, Bridger Feeds sells the Hay Chix nets and you’ll save the shipping price.

Even though I can’t free feed hay right now due to Sky’s weight and allowing them to forage a bit more this winter, I still like using my nets to slow them down. I feed one flake per horse in the morning, three different nets, then 2 flakes per horse in the evening again in the hay nets. Everyone is looking very good and since I’ve started Sky on Chaste Berry Powder she has lost one more hole on the harness girth 🙂 I think her weight gain was stress related but I don’t discount that she may have had hormone issues as well!

 

I am constantly asked what and how I feed my ponies. I do write about it often, but I haven’t shared all the ponies feed program for awhile so thought I would today!

Everyone has hay 24/7. Bonnie has the hay that I had tested so I can manage her sugars. I only had about 10 bales of the other hay, a grass/alfalfa mix so I didn’t pay to have it tested. I feed that hay to Captain Planet, Zorro and Sky.

I fill Sky’s net twice a day. She gets one flake in the morning and one flake in the evening. Somehow she makes that one flake last all day and all night! She goes out on grass for about an hour and half in the mornings. I slowly worked her up to that over several weeks, starting with 15 minutes graze time. When I started letting the ponies out on the grass I also started feeding them all about 1 teaspoon of magnesium on top of their Crypto Aero. Sky has also been getting half a scoop of the Crypto Aero Plus. She gets 1/4 cup of Crypto Aero, half a scoop (about 1 teaspoon) of the Crypto Aero Plus, and 1 teaspoon of magnesium powder. I top this with a half a scoop of California Trace to help balance the iron.

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Sky’s little one or two flake hay net.
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This is her dry lot. She wanders around foraging all day long.

Bonnie has her hay net and it’s filled with the hay I had tested. I fill her net once a day, sometimes once every two days depending on how fast she finishes it. She’s a slow eater. When I turn all the other ponies out to graze I give her one flake of loose hay to munch on. She is so great. She doesn’t worry at all when everyone is out grazing. This makes managing her so much easier! I give her 1/4 cup of Crypto Aero, 1 teaspoon of magnesium powder, and one scoop of California Trace to help with the iron in the hay. She finished her Milk Thistle and hasn’t tested for more. I am going to get her the Sunny’s Cushing’s Support Kit from Earth Song Ranch, but have to save up for it. Once I start her on that kit I won’t give her magnesium powder anymore!

bonnieshaynet

The boys love to hang out in the shed. They have half and Bonnie has the other half. At this time Sky doesn’t have access to the shed. It makes me so sad, but she has managed just fine. I’ll be putting something up for her this summer unless Bonnie can be out on the dry lot track with everyone. Then they will all be able to use the shed without the divider.

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The boys have two nets. I tied them to t-posts because they love to throw them around and constantly lose them out in the field or Bonnie gets a hold of them, which is a big no no right now with her laminitis.

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The boys feed station.

Zorro loves to stand on the nets….

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Captain obligingly ate from the net for this photo. LOL! I think it’s funny because he is clearly saying, “Do you want me to do this?” Captain gets 1/4 cup of Crypto Aero with one scoop of Remission powder (I had some left over from Bonnie so thought he could use it. He has a big neck and is built for founder, though he never has! I hope to keep it that way…) and 1 teaspoon of magnesium powder. Zorro gets 1/2 a cup of Crypto Aero, a half of scoop of California Trace and 1 teaspoon of magnesium!

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I have a field that is about 7 acres on the property that we rent…

mypasture

And north of this property we own 10 acres that I haven’t used for grazing for some time. We are selling 5 of those acres and then will build our little farm on the other 5. I’m looking forward to putting in two paddock paradises, one with a dirt and gravel path and one with some grass on it. I am going to have a nice big dry lot with my horse shed in the middle so they will be able to use it as a wind block no matter which way the wind is blowing! And I’ll have a nice big feed/tack shed for my carts and my feed. We will plant some trees and shrubs and I’ll put in some herb feeders for the minis on the track as well. I’m so excited to design it all! I have so many ideas. I know it will take a few years to get everything just right, but am so happy to have the opportunity to do it.

Everyone is fat and sassy right now. They all need some exercise badly! I’ve been hand walking Bonnie twice a day for 30-45 minutes and driving Sky 3 or so times a week. As the weather gets better I will drive her daily which will really help her lose some weight! I think making the track in the dry lot will help as well as gelding Zorro so they can all be in together. Zorro is very active and bothers everyone which makes them move their feet!

 

I love my small bale hay nets. They fit a 65 pound bale easily. My bigger 75 pound bales are just a touch too big but it’s not a big deal to peel some hay off the end and use that to fill another net. Sometimes I will tie a knot in the end of my nets and then I can use them to hold just 4-5 flakes of hay. When I tie a knot I will turn the net inside out so the knot is on the inside, with the hay.

I am gearing up to have a rather large surgery on Friday so am getting things ready around the farm to make chores easier for my family to help me with. I won’t be able to lift anything for 4-6 weeks while I heal and will feel so much better knowing the ponies have full hay nets to munch on. I’m sure they will appreciate it as well.

When I do my own chores I will put out 4-5 flakes for each of the girls and a whole bale for the boys. I go check to be sure they aren’t out of hay often so they never have to have that empty feeling in their tummies. But I know my family won’t be so diligent, even with me asking them to check. So using the nets at their full capacity will mean they only have to fill nets every 5-6 days!

Here is a little video I made showing how I fill my nets. I was always curious about this before I purchased my nets and couldn’t find a video that showed me what I wanted to know… So I made this one!

If you have any questions feel free to email me or leave a comment below! I will have lots of computer time over the next few weeks as I heal!

*If you are local to Montana you can purchase your Hay Chix slow feed nets at Bridger Feeds in Bozeman. They cost the same as the Hay Chix website but you don’t have to pay shipping!!

I have been using some form of a slow feeder for several years now. The entire time I had Billy he had feed 24/7. He had a slow feeder, a slow feed net and/or access to pasture.

Now that I have the minis I did not want that to change. Because I thoroughly understand the importance of a horse having access to forage all times of the day and night I knew I wanted that for my minis as well. I have three hay nets, the 70 pound bale nets to be exact.

Forage is the foundation of every equine’s diet and needs to flow steadily through the digestive tract. Gaps without forage can lead to ulcers, colic, behavioral issues, stall vices, gorging, choke, cribbing, and even laminitis. Truly, the only way to avoid these problems is to allow your horse steady access to forage, free-choice, all day and all night.

The Correct Way to Use Slow-Feeders by Julie Getty, Ph.D.

Horses produce 1.5 liters of stomach acid every hour. Regardless of whether they are eating or not, they are producing stomach acid. This stomach acid can be responsible for stomach ulcers. Saliva can help balance out the stomach acid. Saliva is only produced when the horse chews. So having hay or forage in front of them 24/7 solves this.

Having access to forage also helps with colic. Especially sand colic. It’s been found that having hay in their system will help push the sand out better than the traditional Psylliuym.

Horses in a natural setting eat small amounts of forage as they wander in search of the next tasty morsel. They eat virtually all day and night, taking time to socialize and rest every so often for a few minutes at a time. When they know that they always have access to forage, they become calm and relaxed, rest more often, and walk away from their hay, knowing that it will still be there when they return. In other words, they “self-regulate” and eat only what they need to maintain a healthy body condition.

The Correct Way to Use Slow-Feeders by Julie Getty, Ph.D.

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This is shot of my two dry lots. The mares have their own side in front and the boys have their own side in the back. Both dry lots are huge and encourage lots of movement!

It’s a common thought that horses using a slow feeder will be fat and lazy. If they are locked in a small area this is true! If they are not encouraged to move they will stand around and get fat. I am not a fan of using food restriction to manage weight. I think movement is the only way to regulate weight.

There are some horses, however, who gain weight very quickly when given forage free-choice. The reason has to do with the sluggish metabolic rate they’ve developed over time. When forage is parceled out only a few times a day, the horse responds by going into “survival mode,” where his metabolic rate significantly slows down in an attempt to conserve body fat. A cycle of ever-increasing obesity is created that can be reversed only through exercise and removing the hormonal fat-storing response that forage restriction creates.

The Correct Way to Use Slow-Feeders by Julie Getty, Ph.D.

I’ve been witness to people wanting to try the slow feeder, but not having the patience to wait for their horses to self regulate. This can take time if your horse has been used to the starvation diet of one, two or three meals a day. It takes consistency on your part to make sure they are never without hay in their slow feed nets because if they are out for even 10 minutes their brain will switch back into starvation mode and you have to start the process all over again.

They need to be refilled frequently (unless a whole bale size is chosen). Horses who run out of hay (even for 10 minutes) will never get the message that hay is always there and will not self-regulate.

The Correct Way to Use Slow-Feeders by Julie Getty, Ph.D.

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The girls checking to see if I’m going to give them any more food!

Another important point, from an equine body workers point-of-view, is to be sure your slow feeders are at ground level. Do not hang them so the horse has to reach up to eat. This is not natural for a horse and causes their jaws to misalign, as well as causing them to have to twist their head and neck when eating which causes the TMJ and the poll to go out. This is very painful and can definitely affect your horses attitude about being ridden or driven.

Chewing with the head low is more in line with the horse’s natural physiology, creating even pressure on the teeth and allowing the jaw bone to move freely in all directions. Furthermore, the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and bone structure are not stressed when horses can grab hay in a straight downward motion. Eating with their heads down also protects their eyes and respiratory tract against mold spores and dust and provides for better nasal drainage.

 The Correct Way to Use Slow-Feeders by Julie Getty, Ph.D.

My ponies look great having access to feed 24/7. They all got fat at first and then leveled out. Bonnie is still in the process of regulating, though she will walk away from the hay nets now and hang out. She and Sky can share a net without any food aggression at all. I am very pleased with how my ponies look and how calm they are about food.

Sky is a 13 year old mama. She hasn't been driven for about 7 years and has just been a pasture pet. I know that when I start driving her she will tuck back up again!
Sky is a 13 year old mama. She hasn’t been driven for about 7 years and has just been a pasture pet. I know that when I start driving her she will tuck back up again!
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Bonnie is a 4 year old easy keeper. She is still self regulating and will slim down when I start playing with her more.
Captain Planet is an 8 year old gelding who has always been a pasture pet. Even when he was on the
Captain Planet is an 8 year old gelding who has always been a pasture pet. Even when he was on the “starvation” diet of two feedings a day he looked exactly like this! He has been on a slow feeder for over 2 years now.
Zorro is the baby. He is a yearling and in his awkward gawky stage right now. Every day his belly changes depending on how much he runs around that day!
Zorro is the baby. He is a yearling and in his awkward gawky stage right now. Every day his belly changes depending on how much he runs around that day!

I have at least two if not three hay nets out at all times. I will toss out a flake here and there too. They also have access to pasture for no more than 4 hours in the early morning hours. I get up at 4:30 to let them out and bring them in by 8:30 to ensure they are not out when it starts to heat up and the sugars make their way up the grass stem. They are fed 1/2-3/4 of a cup of Crypto Aero once a day, in the morning as well.

With some patience and education you can be successful at using a slow feeder for your horses too!

Edited on 8/22/18:

After having the minis for almost three years I will say that the key to slow feeding successfully is making SURE your hay is low sugar low starch. DO NOT feed an alfalfa/grass hay 24/7. DO NOT feed an untested hay 24/7 without expecting your minis and ponies to get fat. They just will. Now that I have switched to all low sugar low starch hay my mini and ponies look really good. They still have bellies but they are no longer fat.

I have always fed Billy with a slow feeder, making sure he had hay at all times.  When he was being boarded at the barn I had a big slow feeder that would hold up to 75 pounds of hay and I would fill that thing, every 24 hours, to bursting!  I did not want him standing around on an empty stomach… ever.  Did that  make him fat?  YES!  He was absolutely fat when stalled at the barn, with me only being able to exercise him for 2-4 hours a day.

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My home made slow feeder.
Billy all fat and happy!
Billy all fat and happy!

Of course horses are meant to eat all the time because they are also meant to move all the time.  We have taken them from 100’s of miles of mountain, meadow and range lands and locked them onto tiny stalls, runs, and pens.  We don’t ride them enough and they don’t move enough. There are wonderful pasture options out there that can cause the horse to want to move more.  My favorite is the Pasture Paradise.  If you can, I highly recommend setting one of these up!  I will in the future, when we can afford it.  It’s definitely on my list of “Must Haves”.

There is a trade off to keeping and feeding a horse like a horse.  It’s not cheap and it’s definitely not easy.

Horses are constantly producing stomach acid.  They don’t wait for food to hit the tummy for these acids to be produced.  They are constantly producing them.  And when fed two large meals a day the horse will digest them faster than several smaller meals throughout the day.  So if you take a horse that had it’s morning feed, oh about 4 hours ago, saddle it up and canter circle after circle after circle, you are literally sloshing around stomach acids in an empty tummy.  What happens when stomach acids are churned up without something to absorb them?  ULCERS.

A good rule of thumb, do not work a horse on an empty stomach.

Grain is not a substitute for hay.  Do not work a horse on a stomach full of grain.  Grain aka starch, does not digest the same way that hay does.  Most horses should not have more than 2 pounds of grain a day.  And did you know that grain can cause ulcers as well?

Horses are not made to digest and utilize starches. Horses are made to ferment their food.  When food does not stay in their system long enough to ferment, they will not get the nutrients that they need.  Starches digest very quickly and don’t stay in the small intestine long enough for them to get everything they need.  That is why forage, hay and grass, is so important in a horse’s diet.  If you are feeding large amounts of grain, you are literally throwing your money away.

Having a system in place that allows your horse to slowly eat forage 24/7 is very important for the physical and emotional health of your horse.  I highly recommend a slow feed net or feeder of some type.  I wanted to share these big slow feed nets that hold an entire 70 pound bale of hay.  I bought mine through Hay Chix.  They are easy to put the bale in and the horses love them.

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Billy and his hay net from Hay Chix.
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Photo on the Left was taken last week Photo on the Right was taken last May.

I have watched them stand and work at a bale, then walk away and nibble at the little bit of grass that grows in the playground, then wander off to take a nap.  They are not cranky with each other and will even eat off the same bale.  I have two nets, full, at all times.  We have been going through 2 bales every 2 days, but I have noticed that they are slowing down and leveling off.  The 2 bales lasted 3 and a 1/2 days this week!  I know as they get used to having the hay around all the time it will level off even more and Chloe’s weight will also level off.

In the mean time we are all on an exercise program to help balance the extra hay in take.  (And I am on one to lose the excess weight I’ve been packing!)  I am so happy that I don’t have to fill the smaller slow feed nets two to three times a day and the horses are happy they they never run out of food.  It’s a win-win!