So You Bought a Hay House?!
Congratulations! You’re well on your way to a happier, healthier horse. We at Equine Feeding Solutions & Divide Feed have designed and built the Hay House to provide your horse with simulated grazing while maximizing your hay and minimizing your effort.
How to Transition Your Horse to the Hay House
Always keep hay in the feeder. This is especially important in the initial transition period as your horse learns to eat from the net; whether or not he’s ever eaten from any hay bag before. Try to refill the feeder before it gets below the ¼ fill mark. The visual sight of hay is reassuring to your horse, and and empty net can be damaged by a frustrated or hungry horse.
Transition gradually. Continue to feed your horse loose hay placed underneath the filled net at his regular feeding times for a few days. Slowly reduce the quantity of loose hay fed until he has effectively learned to eat from the net. When you notice your horse is actively and confidently eating from the net, discontinue feeding the loose hay. When he cycles between eating from the net, and walking away to visit friends, explore his living space, or nap, you know he is self-regulating and eating the appropriate amount of food.
Teach your horse to bite and pull hay from the net gently. Spend a little time with him to help him learn how to use the net properly. Go around the feeder and pull little tufts of hay through the holes of the net. Continue to do this for the first few days as often as you can; this will help your horse learn to nibble bits of hay from the bag instead of tearing through the knots and causing damage to the net. If he still seems frustrated, pull pieces out in front of him and feed them to him.
How to Use the Hay House
Feed grass hay. It’s best to use grass hay because it slides easily through the holes of the net. Legumes like alfalfa can be coarse stemmed; it can cause damage to the net, or get hung up and allow only the leaf to fall to the ground. Alfalfa is a great compliment to your horse’s diet, but feed it separately, either in loose flakes, or a trailer net hung on the side of the Hay House.
Don’t “hide” tastier forage in the feeder. Putting flakes of alfalfa in the middle of the grass in the net will lead to wasted hay and frenzied tearing at the net. If you must put alfalfa in the net, put it directly against the side of the netting; but we still do not recommend this.
Fill with multiple loose flakes. A nice, fluffy pile of hay in the net will be best for your horse, and the Hay House. If you must fill the net with a full bale with the twine still on, do so very gently, slowly lowering the bale to the bottom of the net, and immediately removing the twine. Do NOT drop it in. Please.
The Hay House will fit a lot of hay. We recommend not exceeding 2 small bales, or approx. 150lbs. Too much weight drastically increases the amount of wear on the netting as your horse’s teeth pull hay against it.
Where to place your Hay House: The feeder can be placed along a fence line for ease of use, but the best spot is out in the open so your horse can move around it freely. Be sure there is a clear exit from every eating position. If more than one horse is eating from the feeder, keep an eye on behavior to ensure every horse is having the opportunity to free feed. If there are issues, a change in feeder placement may help. If the issue persists, adding another feeding station may be necessary.
Anchoring the Hay House to the ground is not recommended. It is far better for the feeder to bounce off of a frightened horse that for him to crash through it. If it is absolutely necessary to anchor the feeder, due to extremely high winds for example, do so safely and at your own risk.
Check your net daily for broken strands. The structure of the net will keep the bag from completely unraveling, but it is important to mend broken strands as quickly as possible. A broken strand that goes unnoticed and unrepaired for too long can lead to a much bigger hole as your horse learns that tearing the net apart leads to reward.
Is it time for the dentist? Dental care is very important to your horse’s overall health, and their teeth should be checked annually. Properly floated teeth are essential to good mastication and digestion. And not for nothing, but incisor hooks can be very damaging the feeding net.
Shod horses do just fine with the Hay House. The custom feeding net is lifted well of the ground, so snagged shoes are generally not an issue. Of course, quarrels do occur if there are multiple horses eating from the same feeder, so if a stuck hoof is a real concern for you, please don’t hesitate to discuss solutions with us. Pawing can also lead to a snagged shoe, but this is usually a behavior associated with feeding time stress, and the Hay House eliminates this issue! If your horse is habitually pawing at the feeder however, this may indicate that he is frustrated with the eating process and may need you to spend some extra time transitioning him to this new routine.
The Hay House Net is extremely durable, and made to stand up to the rigors of all day everyday use. But, please remember that these are working bags being bit, pulled on, and worn against pretty much 24/7/365. Properly transitioning your horse, keeping hay in the feeder at all times, and gently washing the net once a year will increase its longevity.
Your horse is going to eat a lot of hay at first! Eventually, he will settle in and only eat what he needs, but expect him to eat more while he learns and finally realizes that this new hay source doesn’t go dry. But fear not, given time he will learn that he can walk away and self regulate and not have to finish all of his hay at once, like he did when he was been fed individual flakes at set feeding times. Your horse will also eat more during colder weather and while in heavy work. Many of us have been at the mercy of barns that feed twice a day and don’t realize that the horses aren’t actually getting enough food. Every horse is different: some will eat 3% of their body weight daily out of necessity, and some will only eat 1.5%. All horses are capable of self regulating. Give your horse time and you’ll notice that he will be in better shape, with more even fat cover. Even overweight horses who gorge themselves on scheduled feedings will eat less and lose weight!
Want to know more? Equine Nutrition is a hugely complicated and interesting subject. Nathan and Lara are both more than happy to discuss your horse’s nutrition at the store, and we even offer personalized feeding plans for each of your horses. Stop in to Divide Feed any time to chat, or with your questions/concerns; or shoot us an email.
If you’d like to do some further reading on your own, we think that “Feed a Horse Like a Horse” by Juliet Getty DVM is an absolute essential for every horse owner.