Whist editing our Equine Nutrition course, I began writing about the importance of foraging, one of the horse's natural behaviours, so I thought I would share an extract with you.
As horses in the wild are used to roaming and foraging, it is important to consider how you feed them as well as what you feed them. Horses naturally forage for 10-15 hours per day with non-foraging bouts being no longer than 3 hours. When this foraging time has been restricted in order to maintain a healthy weight, this can cause the horse stress. In one study, horses fed less than 6.8kg of forage per day showed an increase in abnormal behaviours including crib biting and weaving. Foals fed concentrate feed were 4 times more likely to develop crib biting (Waters, 2002), so we know that a lack of foraging causes out horses stress. The recommendation by Spillers Horse Feeds is that horses and ponies need a minimum of 1.5% dry matter of their body weight in forage per day (7.5kg for a 500kg horse), and of course, where possible horses should have ad lib hay. But because obesity is such a problem, we sometimes need to restrict the amount of hay your horse receives.
Although there are many forms of chopped roughage that you can feed, horses eat those twice as fast as they would eat long hay, therefore in order to increase their foraging time, hay, haylage or grass is best. In order to prolong the foraging time when eating hay, there are are few options that have been researched.
One way of doing this is to feed hay in haynets, creating different feeding stations around the stable. This gives variety and interest. Using smaller holed haynets will also slow down the eating process, and Margon et al (2016) showed that the feed time increased by 50-67% in three out of 4 horses when using small mesh hay nets. Glunk et al (2014) also compared eating times with hay on the floor, large, medium and small holed haynets and the results were as follows: Hay on the floor - 3.1 hrs eating time, Hay in large holed haynets - 3.4 hrs, medium holed haynets - 5.1hrs, and small holed haynet - 6.5hrs. It is clear therefore that small holed haynets do increase eating time but you need to carefully weigh this up with any frustration that it gives your horse as the last thing you want to do is to increase your horse's stress.
The other consideration is that feeding from the floor is a much more natural way for horse's to eat as well as any discharge draining from the nostrils easily. And haynets can be dangerous if not tied up correctly.
How do you feed your horse their hay? Please comment below and lets get a discussion going! So many aspects to consider!