Slow Feeders for Horses: 10 Things to Remember When Using Hay Nets

Using slow feeders for horses like the GutzBusta® Slow Feeding Hay Nets has been linked to a lot of benefits including improvements in horses’ physical and mental health. It aids in reducing obesity, colic, and insulin resistance, and promotes constant chewing, reducing the risk of stomach ulcers. If you use hay nets to feed your horses, you also allow them to focus more on their food and prevent unwanted behaviours such as weaving and cribbing. 

Another advantage of slow feeding hay nets is that it significantly reduces hay wastage. The amount of wasted hay is decreased by up to 46% when using slow feeders. It’s a tried and tested tool that will help you save money and increase the longevity of your hay. 

However, just like any slow feeding tools, you should know how to utilise hay nets properly before using them. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you get started:

Do’s:

1. Introduce slow feeders gradually. 

Every horse is different and how they respond to a hay net varies. Some will take a little longer to learn how to eat from a net and others can adapt instantly. The University of Minnesota found that it actually takes four feedings for horses to feel comfortable eating from the nets. 

If this is the first time your horse is using hay nets, you might need to spend some time helping them understand the concept. 

GutzBusta 6cm 60ply Large hay netGutzBusta® 6cm 60ply Large Hay Net

Always remember that you shouldn’t introduce it to a hungry horse without having some loose hay or a hard feed around first. Allowing them to wander around and checking out their new hay nets is one way to reduce aggressiveness when introducing hay nets. This will put your equines in a more exploratory mood instead of a destructive one.

Putting palatable hay inside your nets can be helpful, too, so that your horse will be keen to try and eat through the net. If you use low palatable hay for the first time, then your horse may lose inspiration and may resist eating from the nets, especially if using 3cm sized holes.

2.  Check your nets regularly.

We recommend checking the hay net regularly to make sure there are no holes. If you’ve seen a hole, take the hay net out of use until you have fixed it. 

A small hole can turn into a nose-sized hole or a head-sized hole if not quickly fixed and you don’t want this to happen. By quickly fixing your hay net, you can avoid allowing them to learn how to make small holes into large holes. You can prevent this by making sure you’re investing in durable and long-lasting hay nets for your equines.  

3. Watch how your horses interact with the net.

Based on my observation, most horses adapt quickly to the 4cm sized hole. However, you must observe how your horses interact with the net for the first few days. Some horses need a little help when using hay nets for the first time. Pulling a few tufts of hay out through the holes randomly can also be helpful.

If you have old horses or horses who have sensitive gums, you might want to consider choosing knotless hay nets as they have a softer netting. However, our own horses have eaten from the knotted nets for the last 10+ years with no adverse effect on teeth or gums. So we have never had any issue with the knotted nets, nor have we had customers complain of this.

But if you want to try knotless nets for your equines, you can check our GutzBusta® Knotless Hay Nets. These have super soft netting and are made from 5mm thick and high strength PP (polypropylene). Like our regular knotted nets, they’re perfect for stables, yards, and paddocks, and easy to fill due to their wide-open mouths. 

GutzBusta 4x4 Knotless Round Bale Hay NetGutzBusta® 4x4 Knotless Round Bale Hay Net

It doesn’t have metal joints, too, so you don’t have to worry about your horses’ teeth or mouths getting injured. Our Knotless Hay Nets will be available in round bale, small, medium and large. 

4. Choose the right net hole size.

Hay nets are a great solution whether you want to manage your horses’ weight or to significantly reduce hay wastage. But before purchasing one, you need to choose a suitable hole size for your horses. 

If you have laminitic horses, gutsy eaters, ponies or if your hay is really palatable and you want to slow down their consumption, our 3cm hole size is your best option. We recommend this for horses and ponies that have tried slow feed hay nets before. While some horses may be frustrated by this size, others will accept it immediately. Also, it’s a good choice for highly palatable hays such as lucerne.  

95% of horses have no trouble accepting our most popular hole size, the 4cm. It can be used for cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, and alpacas, too. This is the perfect hole size to start with. Once they have mastered this size, some horses can then use the 3cm nets.

If you’re not restricting hay consumption but want to potentially reduce hay wastage, you can choose the 6cm hole size. It works well for broodmares, old horses, young horses or any horse that you aren’t trying to slow down. You can also use less palatable, coarse, or stalky hay with this size.  

Be mindful of the hoof to net hole size when using hay nets with youngstock, foals, etc. Keep the hay nets away from their feet by using a hay ring and other barriers. You may also want to consider not letting the young horses use any hay net. Wait until they have grown sufficiently to no longer get a hoof stuck in a hay net. The same rules apply with shod horses.

Try using a 4cm first to train your horse to eat from a slow feed hay net or put more palatable hay in the 3cm to give your horse some inspiration to try. Take note that the palatability of the hay has a big factor. If your hay is low in sugar and the horses are barely interested in eating from it, the 4cm or even 6cm would be the better option.

5. Consider the weather conditions when choosing hay nets hole size.

When it comes to using slow feeders, considering the season or weather conditions is essential.

In really cold weather, your horse may only eat hay in 6cm. Whereas in summer, they might prefer eating the same hay in a 4cm or 3cm.

Weather conditions are a really HUGE factor. For example, we tried using one particular low sugar hay for our horses in 2016. To get them to eat it, I had to start with 6cm as they refused 4cm. As they get used to it, they would then graze this same hay in 4cm nets. By summer, some of my horses would eat this hay from 3cm nets, others wouldn’t eat it in less than 4cm. In the winter, they will only eat the same hay from 6cm nets.  

When a horse refuses to eat from the net, it could be that you have chosen the wrong hole size for that particular hay and time of year. Put the hay net away and use it when it’s time to replace their hay or the season has already changed. 

Reassess your decision and perhaps purchase another hay net with different hole size. You may need a bigger or smaller-sized hole hay net depending on what you are trying to achieve.  

Thankfully, this doesn’t happen too often as we provide valuable information to help you make the right decision. But it’s good to know what to do if you ever encounter this problem.

Don’ts: 

6. Don’t let the net get in contact with shod hooves.

Always consider your horses’ feet when using a hay net. If they have shod hooves, don’t let them get in contact with the nets because they might get trapped.

There are many ways to keep their shod hooves out of the net. You can use a box like an old peach box.

GutzBusta Hay Net inside a peach boxGutzBusta® Hay Net inside a peach box

A hay ring can also be useful in keeping your horses’ hooves away from the round bale hay nets. 

GutzBusta Hay Net inside a hay ring GutzBusta® Hay Net inside a hay ring

7. Don’t let your horses use damaged nets. 

As mentioned above, it’s really important to check your nets regularly. Never let your horses use damaged hay nets because they might get caught or trapped in the net.

This is why it’s really important to invest in hay nets that are tough and long-lasting like the GutzBusta® Slow Feed Hay Nets. 

Our hay nets are made from durable, UV Stabilized, and heat-treated netting in 60ply polyethylene netting. We’ve been making hay nets for over 8 years and we know how the netting behaves over time. This netting will not also absorb water, therefore, there’s no change to the properties of the netting during inclement weather or if used to soak hay. 

8. Don’t leave soaked hay for too long. 

Soaking hay has a lot of benefits in reducing dust but more importantly sugar levels. It minimizes hay’s water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) levels so it’s a great way to prevent or manage obesity, insulin resistance or laminitis. However, soaking your hay for too long is NOT advisable. 

According to research conducted by Dr Krishona Martinson, an equine forage specialist at the University of Minnesota, soaking hay for more than an hour will remove the other essential nutrients. It’s suggested to soak your horses’ hay for a maximum of 60 minutes in cool water as it can already remove 30% to 40% of WSC. 

9. Don’t leave large quantities of hay out uncovered during the rainy season.

During the rainy season or storms, make sure your hay is protected, especially the round bales or large square bales (8x4x4 / 8x4x3). The quickest and easiest solution for this is to throw a tarp over the whole bale and secure it. But always make sure to leave some of the netting exposed towards the base so the horses can still eat from the hay net. Once the rain has passed, remove the cover to allow moisture to escape. 

GutzBusta Round Bale Hay Net with tarpGutzBusta® Round Bale Hay Net with tarp

If you are putting a hay bale out with a net and you know it will be a period of constant wet, you can also put your hay net OVER the tarp.

Tarp over the GutzBusta Round Bale Hay Net
Tarp over the GutzBusta ® Round Bale Hay Net  

10. Don’t hang your hay nets too high off the ground for an extended period of time.

When feeding horses, you need to let them eat in their natural grazing position. A study in 1992 showed horses who are forced to keep their heads up are at risk of having respiratory infections.

Hanging the hay nets too high for extended periods might strain their skeletal system and soft tissues, too. Since horses naturally graze heads-down, it’s the healthiest position for them to eat. 

However, it’s also worth noting that the heads-up position can actually be therapeutic for club-footed horses or horses that have other asymmetries in their body. It’s called ‘hay high’ or equine passive physio by knowledgeable horse experts such as Sharon May Davis. It can actually be beneficial to hang the hay net high for them to eat a biscuit of hay from but ensure the horses aren’t in this position for too long. Our GutzBusta Small Hay Nets are perfect for this.

By hanging the nets high, a horse is more likely to stand symmetrical and have an even posture throughout its body (passive physio). It’s also important to remember that horses are also browsers. This means, in the wild or in a paddock situation, they will often have their heads up picking leaves from trees, then they will be head down grazing again, and later on in the day may be seen with their head up browsing leaves from a tree again.  

Club footed horses will always graze with the larger foot forward and the clubfoot back. By allowing your horse to graze for an hour or so with a high hay net, they will be standing much more symmetrically to help their body issues. Although the horse pictured below wasn’t club-footed, the grazing stance observed with the larger/dominant foot forward will be evident in a club-footed horse.

Position of a club-footed horse feeding from the ground
Position of a club-footed horse feeding from the ground

 

A great article on this subject can be found here

The image below shows one of many great ways to encourage your horse to eat in a more symmetrical grazing stance.

Position of a club-footed horse feeding from a suspended hay net
One way to position a hay net to encourage a more symmetrical stance which is great for club-footed horse feeding from a suspended hay net 
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