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University of Minnesota Extension

Using slow feed hay nets

Quick facts

  • 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

Feeding behavior 

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.


Authors: Krishona Martinson, Extension equine specialist, Emily Glunk, former graduate student, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and Wanda Weber, research fellow

Reviewed in 2021

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