A slowfeeder net is a hay net with much smaller mazes/holes than regular hay nets. Whereas the regular hay nets have mazes varying between approximately 8 – 15 cm (3,1 – 5,9 inches), slowfeeder nets have mazes of 3,5 cm – 6 cm (1,2 inch – 2,4 inch).
The goal of a slowfeeder net is to slowdown the intake of hay the horse eats so he spends more time eating and less time doing other behaviours (vices).
Why a slowfeeder net?
Horses are built to eat 16 hours a day. A big difference between a human and a horse is that we humans only excrete acid in the stomach while we are eating. The stomach of a horse produces acid weather he is eating or not.
The upper part of a horses stomach doesn’t have a protective layer against the acid. So if the horse is not eating and doesn’t produce a lot of saliva to neutralize the effects of the acid on the stomach wall, horses can get ulcers.
I can’t help thinking that it must also give them a miserable feeling when they have an empty stomach when Mother Nature want the relatively small stomach always filled with high fibre and low nutrient grasses.
Most domestic horses don’t have the possibility to spend approximately 16 hours a day grazing. If they do get to forage we often give them a flake or few flakes of hay which they finish very quickly. Slowfeeder nets mimic grazing.
It can save a lot of work. If you purchase a big net for your horse(s) that you can fill, you could skip meals. Depending of the size of the net and the amount of horses you have to feed, you could go from feeding hay 3 or 4 times a day to one meal of hay.
Hay doesn’t get spilled, blown away by the wind outside or spoiled by horses peeing and pooping in their hay anymore. This can save money in the long term.
It also saves work because you don’t have to spend time raking spoiled hay. It might even save disposal costs because the manure pile isn’t filling up with spoiled hay.
In general it extends eating time, prevents boredom and helps the horse mimic his natural behaviours.
As a bonus it saves you time and money you can then spend on your horse in a different way.
How to deal with the disadvantages
Filling a net can be time consuming. Make sure you buy a net with a big opening that makes filling the net quick and easy. There are “hoops” available that keeps the opening open if you use the round shaped nets. For the square nets I found my own way of filling it quickly. See this video:
Slowfeeders can be very expensive to purchase. It can take a while before the hay saving costs cover the price of your net. In general you will be saving money by buying the more expensive ones instead of trying the cheap ones first. The cheap ones I tried broke quickly and were frustrating to use. I recommend doing some online research about size, shape, material and maze size.
If you choose a slowfeeder with holes that are too small for your horse it can create frustration or your horse might not eat the amount of hay he really needs.
To prevent frustration when introducing a slowfeeder net to your horse, it can be a good idea to give only half or less of its normal portion in the new net and provide the rest of its ration the way you always do. Most horses learn quickly how to eat out of a slowfeeder net.
Depending on the way your horse has to keep his neck and head while he is eating out of a net, it can cause an unnatural position which can cause health problems.
Be aware that you are introducing a new activity and be alert for any changes this causes in your horse.