Hay bags are an invaluable tool for extending the amount of time a horse eats, and they limit waste. Krishona Martinson, PhD, an equine extension specialist with the University of Minnesota, and her colleagues are hay net experts. They’ve studied which are most effective at reducing waste and lengthening consumption time.
When hay is fed at a rate of 1% of the horse’s body weight, that’s about 10 pounds of hay for a 1,000-pound horse. When fed that portion off the ground, it takes about three hours for a horse to finish his meal. It takes about the same period of time for a horse to consume the same amount fed in a traditional hay bag with six-inch openings. However, when newer style slow feed styles it nearly doubled the amount of time to complete a meal.
“It took five hours with nets that had 1¾-inch openings and six and a half hours with nets that had 1¼-inch openings,” she said. “If you’re feeding that twice a day like that, you’re really extending the amont of time a horse is chewing, which is important for gut health.”
Traditionally, hay nets have been used for feeding by the flake. But hay nets for use with round bale feeders are popular for the same reason. They can help reduce waste and encourage horses to consume hay over longer periods of time.
“With large bale nets you need to consider that they can become frozen to the ground, especially in areas where freezing rain or snow that melts and freezes is common,” she said. “If the hay isn’t consumed quickly enough or the weather is really bad, the net can freeze.”
Martinson said that large bales should be consumed within five to seven days unless covered by a hay hut or net. The elements quickly degrade the quality of hay.