Last week I talked about caring for your horse in a more natural way. Today I want to talk about what is called the Slow Feeding Movement. This past year I have been really excited to see that this new feeding practice has been gaining popularity all over the equine industry.
The Slow Feeding philosophy focuses on feeding horses in a way that is more natural to them by letting them eat in a controlled continuous way. When I say “controlled continuous” it means that the horse has access to food at all times BUT the horse is forced to eat small amounts at a time. The most common way to do this is by putting hay in a hay net or by making the horse eat the hay through a grate. This way the horse can only take small mouthfuls of a time. Just as human health professionals suggest eating smaller meals throughout the day and taking time to chew each mouthful fully before swallowing, this system forces horses to be less rushed while eating.
The health benefits of this are many. Horses have relatively small stomachs compared to other animals because they are supposed to eat throughout the day. When horses are feed 2-3 meals a day, they quickly fill their stomach and then their stomach is empty for a large portion of the time between feedings. During the times that the horse’s stomach is empty, the pH of the stomach can become very acidic and cause stomach ulcers and other disorders. Psychologically, when horses cannot express the natural activity of grazing for most of the day, they find ways to occupy their time with other behaviors which are most often classified as vices by humans. The slow feeding movement differs from simply free feeding (giving the horse continuous access to free choice feed) because it controls the speed at which the horse can eat. Many horses that have complete access to food all of the time will eat more than they need and become overweight. In some horses that have insulin resistance or are simply more predisposed to weight gain, this may cause founder and other blood sugar issues. A system that controls the speed by which the horse eats helps regulate the horse’s blood sugar and body condition.
Not only is this system better for the horses, but it can also be much less labor intensive for the owner. You can supply your horse with multiple days of feed at one time, meaning that you are no longer strictly controlled by feeding times.
There are many different DIY designs that can be found on the web. I’ve posted some links below. I’m sure with a little tweaking these designs can be adapted to many other types of livestock too.
-written by Rachel Burmeister, Internship Coordinator 2011-2012