Horses have evolved to eat small frequent forage meals, spending over 14.5 hours grazing each day.
Small- and medium-holed hay nets:
Slow the rate of forage intake
Increase the amount of time it takes adult horses to eat a hay meal
Horses have evolved to eat a few small forage-based meals throughout the day. They often spend over 14.5 hours grazing each day. But many of today’s horses:
Spend a lot of time in stalls or dry lots
Receive two large meals per day
Have limited chance to forage
Many horse owners try to mimic a more natural feeding pattern by providing free access to hay. But this often results in obesity because the horses eat too much.
The University of Minnesota looked at the effects of hay net design on the rate and amount forage eaten by horses. They wanted to see if hay net design mimics more natural feeding without causing weight problems.
Testing hay nets
Eight adult horses were fed in individual box stalls by each of the following:
Off the ground
Large-holed hay net (6-inch openings)
Medium-holed hay net (1.75-inch openings)
Small-holed hay net (1.0-inch openings)
Horses had access to hay inside the nets for two 4-hour periods: 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. daily. Throughout the trial, grass hay was fed at 1 percent body weight twice daily.
Average feeding rates and intakes of horses fed at 1 percent body weight for four hours twice daily
|Feeding method||Rate||Amount eaten|
|Off the ground||3.3 lbs/hr||95%|
|Large-holed net||2.9 lbs/hr||95%|
|Medium-holed net||2.4 lbs/hr||89%|
|Small-holed net||1.9 lbs/hr||72%|
A second study showed horses feeding from the medium-holed net took just over 5 hours to eat the hay meal. Horses feeding from the small-holed nets took 6.5 hours to eat the meal. Both the control and large net resulted in consumption times of 3.2 and 3.4 hours, respectively.
For adult horses, small and medium nets are effective in:
Decreasing rate of forage intake
Decreasing the amount of forage eaten
Increasing the total time to eat forage
We can expect that using small or medium hay nets to feed in a box stall setting twice daily, would allow horses to forage for 10 to 13 hours daily. This better mimics more a horse's natural grazing behavior.
Small and medium hay nets represent a simple and affordable way to extend foraging time when meal feeding horses. The use of the small and medium hay nets isn’t practical for all horses. It take time (usually 4 to 5 feedings) for horses to adjust to eating from the nets.
Reviewed in 2021