Benefit of Slow Feeding
I am sure a lot of you have heard about slow feeding, the benefits and reasons behind this feeding system. I am a strong believer in slow feeding and have seen some positive changes in my horses that I am most certain is due switching to a slow feeding system.
Slow feeding is just that, slowing the rate at which the horse can consume its feed. Usually this will allow the horse to have free access to hay 24/7, or at least draw out the the time it takes the horse to consume a meal by several or more hours. There are several good articles that detail the benefits (I will link one below), but I wanted to share with you the behavior changes and body changes I have seen in my horses switching to the slow feeders.
The first horse I was struggling with would show behavior of self mutilation mostly at feeding time (AM/PM) , but would also occasionally do this mid day in his paddock or even when turned out. Self mutilation is a stereotype similar to the compulsive behavior of weaving, cribbing or pacing, except self mutilators will bite themselves, kick/strike, chase their tail, rear and squeal for no apparent reason. Pretty odd if you have never seen it before!
I tried gut balancer supplements, increasing work/exercise and also increasing hay amounts, but nothing really seemed to be helping curve his behavior. It was't until about two weeks into using a slow feeding net, that I could see a change in his behavior, he was self mutilating to a lesser degree. It took about a year of being switched over and he now rarely, if ever, self mutilates.
That was probably the most extreme change I saw from using the slow feeding nets, but I have also noticed horses that were obese, loose weight and horses that were thin, gain weight, merely by using a slow feeder consistently. I believe having forage available at all times helps smooth out the horses digestive system and puts things into balance like they were meant to function. There are lots of things we do with our domesticated horses that is unnatural, and feeding two big meals a day is one of them. By putting a bale of hay in a slow feeder, your horse can graze off of it when he feels necessary, simulating grazing in the natural environment, lowering stress and digestive upset. Even lengthening the feeding time morning and night has its benefits.
I like to use slow feed nets, not grates or boxes. I like the nets because they are easy to move around and are soft on the horses mouth. I have seen teeth worn away from constant use on a metal grate system. I like to use my slow feed nets in the barn, stall, trailer, hang on posts or trees in a turn out, or if the horses don't have shoes on, I just throw them on the ground and let them eat with their heads down.
The best nets I have found are from Hay Chix! They are durable - I have had mine for 5 years, using them EVERYDAY and they are not worn or have holes! Best investment for my horses' health and hay waste is pretty much eliminated. Most certainly worth it, and Hay Chix stands by their products and offcers a 100% guarantee!
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I feel like a satisfied horse mama when its cold and snowing outside, my horse has hay available to him to graze on when ever he would like. I know he is warm and happy and less time for me to brave the cold! A bale will last several days, and I can sleep in or go out and check on him when it's more convenient.
This is a good article with a greater explanation of slow feeding, how it works, why it's important and how to introduce your horse to the slow feeding system: https://equinewellnessmagazine.com/slow-feeding-movement/