If your “need” for an automatic feeder is grounded in a desire not to have to tend to your horse every day, please reconsider. Your horse should be checked at least once a day to make sure he’s normal — attitude, eating, manure and no signs of wounds, lameness or illness. If he’s an “only horse,” or stabled without direct contact with other horses, your social interaction with him is also an extremely important part of his day. He needs you.
If that’s not enough, remember that feeders aren’t foolproof. Equipment malfunction or power failures can result in your horse not being fed. Feeders potentially can become stuck in the open position — a disaster in the making — or clog shut. Bored horses are notorious for fooling with anything within reach of their teeth. Basically, if you use an automatic feeder, you’ve got yet one more thing to check at least once a day.
Attributes And Liabilities
Automatic feeder manufacturers use the ability to feed multiple small meals a day as a major selling point. While it’s true that the horse is designed to eat virtually nonstop while awake, rather than large amounts twice a day, millions of horses do just fine on two-meal schedules, with plenty of hay, of course.
Sweet feed can be problematic for automatic feeders. The molasses can build up on the sides of the feeder and cause clogs, not to mention organisms that are growing in that build-up. If you’re feeding a sweet feed, you’ll have to switch to pellets or plain grains.
That said, there are some valid reasons for using an automatic feeder. These include:
• Scheduling. The pressures of work and family often mean erratic feeding schedules. Horses are creatures of habit and most content on a fixed schedule. An automatic feeder can eliminate late-feeding anxiety, but he’s still going to expect to see you on schedule as well.
• Boredom. Horses on stall rest for injury or confined to dry lots become bored easily, with wood chewing and other vices developing quickly. Free-choice hay is one way to combat this but in some cases leads to too much weight gain. A combination of controlled amounts of loose hay with boredom-breaking timed feedings of hay pellets, or switching to a complete pelleted feed at automatic timed intervals, can help.
• Bolters and digestive upset. Horses that bolt their grain, have a tendency to choke or require large amounts of grain to hold their weight because of heavy work schedules can benefit from multiple small meals rather than just two large ones. If you can’t be at the barn three or more times a day to do this, the automatic feeder can fill in for you.
• Emergencies. Life happens, and when it happens to you at a time when you’re needed somewhere other than the barn (with no advance notice) it’s nice to have a back-up plan that doesn’t leave your horse high and dry or frantic phone calls to someone who can help out. Horses turned out in remote locations, where bad weather conditions can be a major obstacle, can definitely benefit from having the option of automated feeding (and waterers) until weather allows caretakers in. Hay pellets or chopped forage makes a good choice as a snack. You can keep a bag on hand to use as a hay substitute in an automatic feeder for emergency situations. Using this as your treat at other times makes sure the horse is accustomed to it.
• Money saving. If you have to pay someone to feed your horse when you can’t be there, automatic feeders may pay for themselves.
• Waste. Horses that toss their grain around at feeding time may be less likely to do so if they receive much smaller amounts in multiple feedings. If your problem is with hay wastage, switching to multiple feedings of pelleted hay can eliminate this, but pelleted hay costs more so you’ll have to do some careful calculations to determine if you’re saving money.
With a $2,500 price tag, the Stable Grazer is a luxury item. Even if you have hay waste from feeding enough to allow free-choice hay with twice-daily feedings, it’s difficult to imagine enough wastage to justify the price. Ditto on cost savings on paid help. If cost isn’t an issue, this system would be useful for doling out controlled amounts of hay to horses on lay-up. Although advertised for outside use, we worry that damage to the coating on the feeder would lead to rapid rusting.
The iFEED and Quick Feed are similarly priced plastic feeders. Quick Feed holds more feed/pellets, but the iFEED has the advantage of being a covered, rodent-proof system. They’re both limited to indoor use. If you’re considering an automatic feeder just for when you can’t be there, or to give one meal a day to horses in stalls, these are economical choices. For outdoor feeding, the durable ProFeeder is the best choice.