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Switching to free choice hay...anything I need to know?

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  • Switching to free choice hay...anything I need to know?

    For as long as I've owned a horse, I've used a full board facility where horses are fed a set amount of hay twice a day. I've always paid extra so I could also give my horse an extra flake after riding or when I came to groom.
    Now my situation has changed, and I'm in a rather nice low key rough board barn. There are only a few of us, and we share feeding and chores. Each horse has their own individual turnout paddock, in sight and within nose reach of the others. Now I'm thinking that I'd like to switch the pony over to a free choice situation with her hay.
    But here are my questions:
    how do I make the switch?
    Do I just stick a full bale of hay into her feeder and let her go at it?
    Can a horse overeat hay?
    Should I expect my hay consumption to go up initially, and then level off once the excitement of all-you-can eat buffet wears off?

    Any help is appreciated!

  • #2
    I wouldn't expect any problem. Just stick the bale of hay there. You might have to monitor pony getting too fat though....


    • #3
      Small mesh hay nets!! Some horses may take an adjustment time to learn to eat the hay from these nets because they can only get a small amount at once. It will help prevent a lot of wasted hay and gives them a better chance of having hay constantly available depending on how much you put in the net.

      There's a section on feeding hay this way on my website below. You have to scroll down a bit until you reach the section with the pictures of the haynets and the accompanying text.



      • #4
        Horses cannot overeat grass-type hay (around here it's mostly prairie and brome) but your most likely issue is waste. The small mesh hay net is good for controlling waste because they can't pull out huge chunks, half of which falls on the ground only to be smushed and ruined! Free choice hay is definitely the best option for horses, in my opinion though!


        • #5
          Yes, definitely make sure you have a system to stop the pony from wasting hay, otherwise he'll just choose the best bits to eat and paw the rest around! Other than that, I think its a wonderful decision you are making.


          • #6
            Small hole hay net


            • Original Poster

              Thanks for the hints! I had been using my own version of a small hole hay net....a cargo net from the back of an SUV. But I had not been thinking about the waste, so I will definitely plan to use some sort of net. We presently have large plastic tubs (4' x 4' x 3' tall) and the ponies don't pull much out of them. Maybe I can create a net that will lie on the hay in the tub.


              • #8
                If you have an air fern, they can get fat on an all you can eat buffet of just hay. I exercise several horses for different clients whose horses are on dry lots and the hay is weighed to ensure they get only what they can manage without getting too fat or foundering.

                If you have decent pasture, pony will most likely not touch her hay if grass is available.

                I would bump up her hay slowly to make sure she will eat that much. If she hoovers it and gains weight, a small hole hay net is a great option.


                • #9

                  Does this move mean you have more access to trails?


                  • #10
                    Just feed a little more each day until there are leftovers. The key is to not feed so much that they waste it (small hole hay nets help here).

                    You will find the amount of hay that they consume changes with weather, work and how much grain you feed. In cold weather, the hay consumption can double. It's a constant balancing act between making sure they have enough and they aren't wasting too much


                    • #11
                      www.cinchchix.com - Their nets are da bomb. Lotsa sizes and VERY tough.
                      <>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.


                      • Original Poster

                        Thanks all. I'll look into some sort of slow feeder set up.

                        Jawa, I haven't actually moved, I'm at the same barn, but the barn manager and her horses and lesson program moved out, so the few of us who didn't want to move are staying on it a rough board situation. We do have access to trails, with some interruptions for things like seasonal river flooding (now) and the first few weeks of crop planting. But I hope to get her out more this summer.

                        PossumHorse, your advice lines up with what my vet just said...increase gradually until I reach a level that allows for some leftovers.

                        I'm excited about this. We don't have pasture, and I'm not sure pasture would work for my easy-keeper pony. But I've always hated the idea that she spends many hours each day without something to munch on...not for her figure, but for her digestive health. So I will be very happy if we can get to a point where she can wander over to her hay at will.


                        • #13
                          First cut vs. second

                          I don't know what you have agreed on for hay, but, while your horses might love free choice second cut, as others have said, just watch for them getting too fat. :-) Some people believe that first cut is healthier (less rich, lower calories), but other people are committed to the softer second-cut, especially if there are some seniors in the herd. See what works for you and your horses.

                          But I love feeding free choice hay, and find the horses seem so much less stressed about everything when they're not desperately awaiting the next installment of food because they ran out of hay four hours earlier.


                          • #14
                            Yes, we increase hay one flake per feeding until the horse is just nibbling at scraps at the next feeding time.


                            • Original Poster

                              Chocomare, you answered my next question before I asked it! I saw the Cinch Chix nets at Equine Affaire and I liked them at lot, but at the time wasn't able to put them to use. Two of the three equines at the barn are ponies, so overeating/overfeeding could be a concern, so I'll definitely order a cinchchix single bale net and use it to gradually increase her available hay.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by Eilsel View Post
                                Horses cannot overeat grass-type hay
                                So not true. Some horses can get just plain obese on free choice grass type hay.

                                And some horses never slow down, there is no initial glutenous movement that then slows to a more normal eating rate. The constant eating until tick fat rate never ends.


                                • #17
                                  Depends on the hay you are feeding. My horses will get huge on Timothy Grass and/or alfalfa free feeding....

                                  What works for my situation is I free feed them Oat hay because it's not as tasty. I did have to put it in large water tubs to keep it off the ground because they decided it was a good potty. I give them a few flakes of alfalfa but not free feed that hay.

                                  I tried the small hole hay nets and one of my horses was a master at getting it out quickly the other was a master of ripping it off the wall and destroying it.
                                  Live in the sunshine.
                                  Swim in the sea.
                                  Drink the wild air.


                                  • #18
                                    Free choice hay sounds great until you do it for a year or two and realize that your costs have gone way up, your paddocks are a mess from wasted hay, and your horses are obese. Especially if your horses are standing in individual paddocks and not running around and playing, they aren't burning off a lot of calories and may/will eat from boredom. Before you start putting lots of hay in front of your pony (pony=breed of horse, or pony=term of endearment?) get a body condition score, a fairly accurate weight, and figure out how many pounds of hay your pony actually needs per day. Then figure out how you can spread it out over the day so it feels like free choice.

                                    My example of this: I bought two young horses who were a healthy weight and had not been on pasture or on free choice hay. I put them on mid/late summer pasture that year, followed by free choice hay through the winter. The first year went ok. Second year they came into spring plump, and got plumper on grass the next summer. Couldn't work it off with under saddle exercise, so they got fatter that winter and by spring, I had one who was on the verge of being laminitic. Changed their turnout situation to daytime pasture, night time drylot with minimal hay, and upped the exercise. Long story short, this winter I was finally able to get one of them into a situation where he gets a measured amount of hay, weighed daily and provided in small meals, and for the first time since I bought him he is a healthy weight. I know now that these guys just can't handle unlimited access to hay, even in winter, and truthfully most of the horses at our barn don't need it either. So watch your pony carefully. Laminitis is no fun.


                                    • #19
                                      Real pony?

                                      If you are just being cute and calling a horse a pony then that is one thing but if you have an actual pony then you can't feed like that. Most real ponies won't stop eating if they have food in front of them and nothing to do. You can stretch out the feeding time with small hole haynets and still control the amount of hay they eat...though ponies figure out all the tricks to eating fast out of the nets. Real ponies, and many breeds of easy keeping horses as well, get into all kinds of metabolic issues when they are obese. Laminitis is the first problem and not one to mess around with. Many fat horses are a little laminitic. As you get into middle age there is Cushings and founder to consider. You need to think this through, talk to your vet, and know your horse. Not as many horses as you think can self manage their hay. PatO


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Hinderella View Post
                                        For as long as I've owned a horse, I've used a full board facility where horses are fed a set amount of hay twice a day. I've always paid extra so I could also give my horse an extra flake after riding or when I came to groom.
                                        Now my situation has changed, and I'm in a rather nice low key rough board barn. There are only a few of us, and we share feeding and chores. Each horse has their own individual turnout paddock, in sight and within nose reach of the others. Now I'm thinking that I'd like to switch the pony over to a free choice situation with her hay.
                                        But here are my questions:
                                        how do I make the switch?
                                        Do I just stick a full bale of hay into her feeder and let her go at it?
                                        Can a horse overeat hay?
                                        Should I expect my hay consumption to go up initially, and then level off once the excitement of all-you-can eat buffet wears off?

                                        Any help is appreciated!
                                        I feed my horses "free choice" hay - as in there is always hay in front of them. BUT - & this may go against strict "free choice" principles - they MUST clean up all of the hay once a day. I don't mean every single little scrap, but I don't just arbitrarily throw bales on top of bales that are still perfectly good but just haven't been consumed yet. Thus I have little to no waste.