Does feeding hay in double or triple netted haynets extend eating time and foraging behaviour?

Equine obesity is rising and many owners are concerned about how they can avoid leaving their horse/ pony for long periods without forage, whilst still restricting in their intake. A study by Ellis et al (2012) showed that on average, feeding hay in ‘small holed haylage nets’ only resulted in small increase in eating time of approximately 5 minutes per kilogram. As a result, a second study carried out in association with WALTHAM® (Ellis et al 2015) investigated the effect of feeding hay in multi-layered nets on feed intake behaviour vs. a single haynet.

 

Method

  • 6 horses were given 6kg of hay either in a single haynet, or divided between 1 single haynet, 1 double layered haynet and 1 triple layered haynet hung in a random order on 3 sides of the stable. As this was a ‘crossover study’ all 6 horses experienced both feeding methods or ‘treatments’
  • All horses were fed their hay ration between 16.30 and 17.00 and recorded by video camera until 06.00 the following morning
  • All haynets used had 2.5cm holes
  • 2 of the six horses included were prone to crib biting

 

Results

  • Horses chose to eat from the ‘easiest’ haynet (single) first
  • Intake time per kilogram of hay was significantly higher for double & triple layered nets
  • On average horses finished eating from the single net at 01.38, from the double net at 03.00 and the triple net at 05.12
  • Hay from the triple layered nets was not always consumed completely
  • Some frustration was observed amongst the crib-biting horses when eating from the triple layered nets

 

What does this mean?

  • Feeding 6kg of hay between 3, tripled layered 2.5cm haynets could potentially extend eating time by 2 hours compared to feeding the same amount of hay in a single haynet
  • The difference in behaviour amongst crib-biting horses needs further investigation

 

SPILLERS® Tips

  • Try dividing hay/ haylage between 3, double layered haynets to help extend eating in horses and ponies on restricted rations of forage
  • Remember, second to water forage is the most important part of any horse/ pony’s diet and should ideally be fed ad lib. However this is not always practical for good doers in which case some level of restriction may be necessary
  • Total forage intake (which includes grazing) should not be restricted to less than 1.5% bodyweight dry matter per day. As a guide, ignore grass intake in horses and ponies turned out for only a few hours and feed a minimum of 0.75% bodyweight (DM) to those stabled for 12 hours – speak to a nutritionist for more advice.
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