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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.