Deciding what type of feeder to use in a barn seems like a simple decision. But there are many choices, each with its own list of benefits. Which option is right for you?
INSIDE THE STALL
Without a doubt, the most common grain feeders are plastic and rubber buckets and corner feeders. These are inexpensive, easy to purchase and require virtually no installation. Simply bolt them to a wall or, in the case of buckets, hang a snap, and you’re all set. Of course, with corner feeders, wasted grain and saliva in the crevices can be problems. Fortunately, there are now several brands that offer a raised lip around the edges to prevent excess feed from accumulating where a horse’s tongue can’t reach; look for these to keep mice and mold away.
With rubber and plastic so inexpensive, why consider using anything else? “First, they are easily scored,” notes Scott Torticill of Nelson Manufacturing Co., “and once you get a nick in the bucket, it creates a groove where bacteria, microorganisms, mold and fungi will grow. But you can’t clean it because plastic and rubber are highly porous [permeable]. That means that the bacteria and other organisms that get into those grooves can’t be destroyed. You can scrub those buckets, but you’ll never get them sanitized.
“The second reason plastic and rubber are bad,” continues Torticill, “is that they can be a hazard. Horses will kick and break them, or they will weaken in time and crack, causing sharp edges. Also, the handles can get ripped off and hurt a horse.”
Other options include aluminum and painted, galvanized or stainless steel. For aluminum, Dennis Marion, the president of Innovative Equine Systems, advises using bowls that are 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch thick. “They’re large, round and almost indestructible,” he says. Be cautious with painted steel, as the paint can chip. Once chipped, rust can form. Consider using galvanized steel instead, or even better, steel that has been powder coated, meaning the rust-resistant coating was applied using high heat during the manufacturing process.
The only real drawback to these feeders is that they can be difficult for horses to get everything, so look for units with drain holes or a spherical shaped bottom where the feed goes to a single low point. Torticill recommends using stainless steel feeders because they have a smooth surface and can be easily cleaned and sanitized. Also, instead of purchasing stand-alone bowls, Torticill suggests units where the bowl can be removed from either a wall-mounted or free-standing frame. This way, the bowl can be cleaned outside the stall, without the horse interfering. Be sure the feeder has a feed retention lip so the grain can’t get between the bowl and top of the unit.
Also make note of the gauge and grade of steel that is used on these units. The lower the gauge, the thicker (and thus stronger) the steel, while the grade will vary depending on the use. Torticill suggests a 12-gauge rating on the protective housing, while 16-gauge is excellent for the bowl. As for grade, a rating in the low 300s is preferable.