There are many reasons why horse owners would choose to slow feed hay to their horses. The concept of slow feeding hay is gaining popularity. The term "slow feeding" hay refers to methods to slow down the rate at which the horse can eat his hay. If you think about it, hay is a somewhat concentrated food. It's grass with the water removed, so each mouthful is a more concentrated source of calories. In fact, hay contains seven to eight times more calories than live grass. Grass is 70 to 80% water, while hay is usually around 10%. Because of the concentrated nutrition in hay, it can be beneficial to slow feed hay.
Some horses will limit their hay intake to their need, but most don't. This leads to overweight horses and necessitates hay restriction, which can cause horse boredom. Hay restriction leaves the horse with too much time on his hands, causing horse boredom and vices like wood chewing commonly follow.
In addition to reducing horse boredom, allowing the horse to eat more continuously has metabolic and other health benefits. Providing food in a few meals rather than spread out evenly can result in higher insulin responses to feeding. Owners of horses with metabolic syndrome know how important this is to their horse's well being and health. When you slow feed hay, you also encourage normal intestinal function and keeps something in the stomach at all times as a buffer against acid. Click here for products that help you slow feed hay.
Make Your Own
We learned that some owners have come up with homemade versions that get the job done for a fraction of the cost. Something as simple as a galvanized ground feeder can be fitted with a piece of wood with circular holes in it to place over top of the hay. Even with 3" diameter holes, eating time is slowed considerably. The one in our picture was made with a ½" thick piece of fiberboard. The wood weighs between four and five pounds and the horses made no attempt to pick it up. U bolts can be added to the bottom of the feeder to adapt it to hold the hay bag of your choice, secured to the bolts with snaps.
Any wooden crate can be used as a hay feeder, and several people have made their own using half inch to 1 inch thick wood, reinforcing the corners on the outside with cut sections of 2x4s. For a grid, any type of suitably sized mesh or chain link can be secured to a wooden frame.
Easier yet is to use gridwall. Gridwall is a flat metal grid composed of usually 3" squares, used in stores on walls to mount shelves or displays. They come in a variety of lengths and widths, can be cut to the desired size and fasteners are available to hold sections together, if needed. Heavy racks from old barbeque grills can also work. Anything that's safe.
You can convert your regular hay bags to slow-feeding bags by filling a bag then putting one or two more bags on top, overlapping the squares to make them smaller.