Benefits of Slow Feeding Print E-mail
Monday, 01 July 2013
By Michelle K. Binder-Zolezzi,
Relational Riding Academy

Horse owners should know how the equine digestive system works. Horses are “trickle feeders” so need a constant flow of fiber to keep things healthy and working well. Feeding two flakes of hay and a can of grain twice a day is not a natural way to manage your horses diet. Horses prefer to eat with their heads down. This position allows nasal passages to drain and permits them to see almost 360 degrees. If you watch a horse eat hay out of an overhead feeder, you’ll notice that when hay is on the ground he will switch from the feeder to eating what he has spilled. Sometimes you’ll see horses actually throw the hay out of the feeder…they know what’s natural. Scattering hay simulates grazing but is time consuming for you as well as wasteful.

The term “bolus eating”, describes horses that eat hay free choice and all at once. When you throw your horse two or three flakes of hay he will eat it until it is gone, then be hungry well before you get home to feed him again at night. Slowing down the rate at which horses can access hay means that the digestive process is slowed down and nutrients in hay can be absorbed much more efficiently. Slow feeding horses provides a continuous feeding method, which means your horse will constantly be foraging, thereby stimulating their digestive system as well as their mind. Under these conditions your horse’s body will work as nature has intended.

How can we shift to a slow feeding method? Try a Box Feeder
With a Box Feeder the horse is “grazing” through a metal grid. We have not experienced any problems with the horses lips or tongues from the metal grids even in extremely cold winter temperatures. Of course the size of the openings in the grid makes a difference and you might be surprised at how much hay a horse can consume through 3 inch openings! Box feeders can be designed to have the horse eat from the top or from the side, to be covered or open and to have sloping floors. With a top feeder the metal grid is placed on top of the hay. As the horse consumes the hay, the grid follows it down to the floor. Feeders should be nearly completely empty before refilling to avoid spoilage. With a side feeder the metal grid is placed vertically while a slanted bottom makes the hay slide down to the grid for the horse to eat. Hay can become stuck instead of sliding so material and slope become critical to the success of the side feeder.

Box feeders should be safe and durably constructed as well as weather resistant to keep hay dry. They may be constructed any size so our outside box feeders hold up to two average bales of hay. It is also possible to feed more than one horse from the same feeder by building them to allow single or double sided access. These designs are the most dependable when properly managed. Using this feeding method we are able to fill feeders every two to three days and our horses are not fat, they are happy.

Larger covered feeders of a similar style that are designed to feed round bales are also available. The covered models keep hay from spoiling in the weather and restrict access as well. Managed access through a grill or grate ensures that the hay stays in the feeder, clean and dry and that you can fill it much less often. Some covered large bale feeders do not regulate how much hay can be accessed and so waste is a problem. We have found managed access to be the best solution to both waste and convenience when feeding from large bales.

Some people have tried soft feeders like hay nets and small mesh hay nets even over large bales. Nets are not as durable as box feeders; they are difficult to load, the hay gets wet and horses can easily become entangled in them especially when shod. If they are left on the ground, horses will trample and soil the hay that remains in them instead of eating it. This works for some but we were not happy with the results.

On our farm we have been able to utilize both small box feeders inside and out as well as covered large round bale feeders to achieve terrific results in slow feeding. Our feeder designs have proven safe and effective and have survived almost three years of “field trials”. If you are a horse owner I encourage you to try slow feeding for the good of your horse as well as convenience and savings for you. For more information about where to get or how to build slow feeders visit

• Continuous access = happy horses. Controlled access = happy owners
• Mimics natural grazing behavior
• Slow, steady stream of roughage in the gut reduces colic risk,
improves utilization and absorption
• Eliminates “wolfing”
• Reduces boredom
• Eliminates feeding time anxiety
• Virtually NO waste with properly designed box feeders
• Reduces time and labor in both feeding chores and clean up
• Ends multiple daily feedings
• Fill feeders once or twice a week or even once a month!
• Finally, safely take advantage of the modern agricultural practice
of cheaper round and large rectangular baling
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