Any discussion about automatic horse feeders should start with a disclaimer that nothing can or should ever take the place of the human element in horse care. No horse should be left alone or unattended for extended periods of time for any reason.
That said, there may be situations where programmable devices to automatically feed horses may be beneficial to both horse and owner. From the facility with large numbers of horses to feed to the single horse laid up and in need of frequent, regularly-timed feedings or the horse owner with a hectic, unpredictable life schedule, automatic horse feeders can make caring for a horse easier. Furthermore, automatic horse feeders may be beneficial to a horse’s health.
Studies have shown that by nature horse while awake eat nearly constantly and that by their steady ingestion of small amounts of food, gastro-intestinal problems such as ulcers and colic are less likely. Makers of automatic horse feeders tout the claim that their products provide small, frequent, regularly-timed feedings which more closely mimic the natural way a horse eats, and thus can contribute to a horse’s health.
For the stall-bound horse, an automatic feeder can combat boredom and may prevent wood-chewing or other vices. Horses that bolt their grain or choke from eating too fast may also benefit from eating smaller, more frequent meals as provided by an automatic feeder. Additionally, makers claim that automatic horse feeders prevent feed wasting and can save money.
However, simply installing an automatic horse feeder to take the place of a human doing the job is not without its problems. As with any machine, there is always the potential for malfunction. Feeders can get clogged with feed, power sources can fail, and anyone who’s been around horses long enough can attest to the animal’s amazing ability to tamper with or downright destroy anything, especially something that doles out food.
Types of Feeders.
Not all automatic feeders are created equal. Some, such as the AgPro ProFeeder, are made of galvanized steel, are air tight, can withstand weather and rodents and can be used both indoors and outdoors. Other models have plastic composites, are not weather- or rodent-proof and are intended for indoor use only. Download our
Since automatic feeders operate using electricity, it’s important to consider the power source. Some feeders must be plugged into an electrical outlet, which may create safety concerns. Models such as the Equine Automation and Stable Grazer are completely battery operated. Most automatic feeders are equipped with a battery back-up system to allow the feeder to operate in the event of a power failure. Some, including the ProFeeder and Equine Automation feeder, offer solar-powered battery chargers separately at additional cost.
Automatic horse feeders are programmable to dispense feedings in certain amounts at certain times. Some feeders have malfunction alarms (QuickFeed), positive feed shut-off valves (ProFeeder) and battery-life indicators to let you know when the battery needs recharging or replacement.
The automatic feeders we reviewed hold from 23 to 50 lbs. of feed. Some brands, such as the ProFeeder and QuickFeed sell an additional hopper extension to increase feed capacity.
It’s important to understand the type of feed that is suitable and recommended for an automatic feeder. Some dispense only feed and only feed of certain sizes (for example, pellets less than 1” in length). Feeders such as the Equine Automation with its 6-bay dispenser offer customizable feedings of grain, cubes, chopped forage and supplements. In all cases, feed that is wet or containing moist molasses is not recommended because of its tendency to clog up, damage the feeder and cause it to malfunction.
Of additional concern is the potential for mold growth when moist feed is kept in a relatively confined compartment. Therefore, regular inspection and cleaning of an automatic feeder is important. Some feeders, such as the Stable Grazer, are intended to feed flakes of hay rather than grain (although the maker of Stable Grazer does sell a cloth feed attachment at additional cost that can be used for feed). These feeders resemble metal filing cabinets that attach to stall or outside walls with shelves into which hay flakes are loaded and dropped at programmable times.
Convenience at What Price?
The convenience of having a machine to feed your horse can come with quite a price tag. The models that could be used both indoors and outdoors ranged in price from $355 to $1,145.
When considering the purchase of an automatic feeder, we consider not only the price but how long the company’s been in business and their willingness to stand by their products. Companies such as Nolan Engineering, the maker of the Quick Feed automatic feeder, iFeed, HayDay, the maker of the Stable Grazer and AgPro, which makes the ProFeed, have all been in business for more than five years. Equine Automation is a relative newcomer with its X5-CD feeder being designed three years ago.
Bottom Line. If you’re looking for a commercial grade outdoor feeder, we would look first at the AgPro ProFeeder. Though it’s more expensive than others, the brand has been around for over 10 years, and the feeder is rodent- and weather-proof stainless steel. Plus, you can choose from two models, one that plugs into an electric outlet and another with a 12v battery.
The ProFeeder feeds most brands of pellets and dry feed and its 50 lb. capacity can be doubled by adding a hopper extension sold separately.
For indoors only, we like the QuickFeed. Though not rodent-proof, the feeder does offer a malfunction alarm and a hopper extension to increase feed capacity.
The iFeed is similarly priced and offers a hopper extension as well. Its basic feed capacity is only 10.5L (or 23.1 lbs.), but you can set it to feed up to 720 times a day.
For a hay-dispensing feeder, the Stable Grazer is a solid contender if you can afford the luxury of the $2,195 price tag.
Article by Contributing Writer Susan Quinn, Esq.