While forage is the most important part of a horse’s diet, circumstances arise when intake should be limited. Obese horses and ponies with metabolic conditions, for example, may need to have calorie intake controlled carefully to avoid overconsumption of energy. Limiting forage intake can mean less time spent chewing, and with this comes a reduction in saliva production and stomach-acid buffering, all of which sets the stage for gastric ulcers and possible colic.
Haynets help prolong the time it takes a horse to consume forage by providing a physical barrier that prevents fast consumption. Haynets are manufactured with holes of varying sizes, and differences in this design feature can affect how fast a horse consumes hay.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that horses took longer to consume hay from haynets with small holes (3.2 cm) or medium (4.4 cm) holes compared to large holes (15.2 cm) or the control group fed without haynets*. The researchers even found a difference in consumption rates between haynets with small and medium holes.
Aside from slowing consumption, there is another benefit to using barriers to extend consumption of forage. Researchers concluded that the use of haynets decreased overall stress in horses on restricted diets, while simultaneously achieving weight loss**.
Depending on the management situation, owners sometimes find that a lot of hay is wasted when not fed in a haynet or feeder. Hay wastage can be minimized with proper use of a square-bale feeder. A study on feeder design (basket, slat, or rack) found that feeders reduced the amount of hay wasted when fed outside compared to hay fed without a feeder+. With less waste, feeders reduced the overall cost of providing hay.
For owners concerned about digestive health of horses on limited forage diets, RiteTrac, developed by Kentucky Equine Research, can help support balanced pH in the digestive tract. Horse owners in Australia should look for these research-proven digestive supplements.
Further, while many horses can maintain their weight on all-forage diets, forage does not provide all of the nutrients horses need for top-notch nutrition. Mature horses should be fed a vitamin/mineral supplement to make up for any nutritional shortfalls. Horse owners may choose Micro-Max to complement forage-only diets. Australian horse owners should look for Gold Pellet, Nutrequin, or Perform.
Whether the goal is to carefully control forage intake or simply to minimize waste, haynets and hay feeders offer practical solutions.
Contact a Kentucky Equine Research nutrition consultant for assistance in managing your horse’s nutrition program.
*Glunk, E.C., M.R. Hathaway, W.J. Weber, C.C. Sheaffer, and K.L. Martinson. 2014. The effect of hay net design on rate of forage consumption when feeding adult horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 34(8):986-991.
**Glunk, E.C. 2014. Methods of restricting forage intake in horses. Dissertation abstract, accessed online.
+Grev, A., A. Glunk, M. Hathaway, W. Lazarus, and K. Martinson. The effect of small square-bale feeder design on hay waste, hay intake and economics during outdoor feeding of adult horses. University of Minnesota Equine Extension. Accessed online.