Hay, Hay You! What’s New?

Hay is the staple feed for most domesticated horses.  A horse will eat 1.0-2.5% its weight per day, and most of that should be hay.

Hay comes in difference sizes, cuttings, varieties.  Square bales, small squares, round bales.  Timothy, orchard grass, ryegrass, brome, coastal, clover/legume, alfalfa, fescue, and the list goes on.

In New York we simply see “grass hay” or mixes.  My current hay provider gives me a mix…of what I’m not entirely sure but I do see clover and grass for sure.  At one point he told me there was alfalfa but to my dismay it appears to have given way to the hardier forages.

ZENOBAY

We can go on and on about hay but for starters lets talk simply about feeding it.

I purchase small bales which weigh about 35-40 pounds each.  The three amigos are given the hay “free choice” so they can eat around the clock as nature intended.  They never run out.


Hay isn’t cheap.  In upstate New York I seem to have it easier than the rest of the country.  Our small bales sell anywhere between 4-6 per bale…first cutting.  Our hay is also better quality than most on average.  Florida, for example, sees mostly lower quality hay and sells for $12 per bale (Floridians please correct me if I’m wrong but this is the trend I’ve heard of from the limited contacts I have).  Unfortunately our seasons are often short and we are lucky to see two cuttings, my current source only got one cutting in this year.  I will save the quality talk and cuttings explanation for future posts.

On average I go through 2-3 bales per day, on average I am spending $300 per month to feed the amigos hay alone (not including supplements and grain).  The biggest headache horse owners have is wasted hay.  There’s a deep pit in our hearts when we walk into the barn to see hay spread throughout, trampled, and defecated on.  Tell that to the horse though…he neither knows why you’re upset nor cares.

This wasting of hay has led to hundreds of “solutions.”  See for yourself; if you Google “feeding hay” you will be bombarded with products and websites dedicated to reducing hay waste.  We all face it and we all search for the magic bullet.

So what’s the right answer?  To each their own, really.  All of the options have benefits and drawbacks.  But here are a few feeding methods that I use.


Feeding On The Ground

Among the most natural and easiest methods of feeding hay.  Choose a spot and throw a few flakes down.  With the boys I would put down two or three piles.

PROS:

  • Easy
  • Fast
  • Feed anywhere
  • Natural, feeding at ground level simulates grazing, elongates the neck, and helps to stretch the back muscles.

CONS

  • Messy
  • Lots of Waste; horses won’t eat hay if it’s dirty.  They tend to spread it all around, trample it, and poop all over it.

Get it Off the Ground

The week we got our new ATV my neighbor came down with this old snowmobile trailer.  Though it was extremely kind and generous it sat in our driveway as we have no use for it.  Finally, as I watched the boys continue to trample their hay I had a light-bulb moment.  I hooked the trailer to the ATV and hauled it up the hill.  The horses enjoy the sun in the colder fall days so I left it out in the open.

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PROS:

  • Easy
  • Fast
  • Feed anywhere: You can hook this up and move it to different locations so one area doesn’t get over trampled
  • Off the ground means that it won’t get trampled into the ground.  This makes it less likely to be wasted
  • Less waste: In theory if your horses don’t reject it

CONS

  • Wastes some: Even getting the hay off the ground the horses still rejected a bunch of hay.  They fluffed it up and left a massive amount laying in the trailer for days.
  • Out in the elements: I began by putting two bails out and since the horses rejected about half it was left out in the rain.  This makes them like it even less.

Wall Mounted Nets

There are many manufacturers that sell these.  I purchased these from Tough-1 through my Horse.com.  You can find them using my affiliate link below (Tractor Supply also carries them online).

If you’re not aware I am an affiliate for several companies.  Horse.com StatelineTack and my newest company is Tractor Supply.  I don’t push too often because I care more about your readership than the commissions. If you do shop at these retailers, though please consider following my links to help me earn a few bucks to spoil the amigos with quality treats.

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PROS:

  • Off the ground
  • Reduces nearly all waste
  • You can change the net once the horses destroy the original
  • Slows the horse down to mimic the grazing rate of consumption; allows the horse to work on the hay for a longer period of time.  This is especially good for easy keepers that stay fat on air.

CONS

  • The metal bars don’t move as freely, can be annoying and difficult to load at times
  • Small opening means you must load only a few flakes at a time
  • A permanent location means the horses won’t move around much
  • Need a wall to mount to so you are limited to the barn
  • Not as natural: horses are evolved to reach down to graze, it’s better for their spinal, respiratory, and muscular health.  These hay nets require them to raise their heads and tilt them in unnatural movements.


The Standard Hay Net

My most used method of feeding continues to be my reliable hay nets.  I have about nine or ten in different sizes with different size openings that I rotate.

PROS:

  • Off the ground
  • Reduces nearly all waste
  • Slows the horse down to mimic the grazing rate of consumption; allows the horse to work on the hay for a longer period of time.  This is especially good for easy keepers that stay fat on air.
  • Natural, feeding at ground level simulates grazing, elongates the neck, and helps to stretch the back muscles.
  • Can be hung nearly anywhere.  I have used my barn, trees, and the corral panels.  They are vital for travel in trailers.

CONS

  • Takes time to load
  • Inexperienced help take time to learn how to efficiently load nets
  • Not as natural: horses are evolved to reach down to graze, it’s better for their spinal, respiratory, and muscular health.  These hay nets require them to raise their heads and tilt them in unnatural movements.
  • Must have a place to hang
  • Shod horses can get their shoes stuck if they paw


Hay Racks

The farm I used to board at has a hay rack in one of the fields.

PROS:

  • Off the ground
  • Easy
  • Minimizes Waste

CONS

  • Can be knocked over by horses or the wind (as in the photos below)
  • Metal and hard surfaces can damage the enamel on teeth
  • The elevated position and angle of the hay causes a very unnatural movement for the horse.

Other Alternatives

I told you there are numerous feeding options for hay and I wasn’t joking.  If you want to spend a thousand or more they even have hay huts that shelter the hay from the elements.  Horses simply stuck their heads in the hut to munch.  Some people build gazebo-like structures to protect the hay.

There are also hay baskets, and some people feed hay in a slow feed net laying in an empty trough.

These all work.

I’ve included a link to a few other neat options to explore.  I haven’t used them so I can’t provide any valuable testimony.

  • Hay Play: Hay Play is a plastic ball that you load with hay and horses can roll it around.  This provides the horses with exercise as the move and graze.  I live on a hilly property so I don’t know if this would work with my boys.  The physics of it also makes me skeptical whether the horses can access all of the hay or just the outer edges while it’s packed.  It looks like a pain to load at well.  Either way I love the concept and think with a few reworks it would be spectacular.
  • Porta-Grazer: The Porta-Grazer is essentially a plastic barrel that can be loaded with hay, the cover has grazing holes and moves down the barrel as hay disappears.  It appears to be specifically designed so that the cover doesn’t easily get pulled out by the horse.  It keeps the head down, encourages the horse to slow down and practice the grazing that nature intended.  I haven’t purchased this because it is expensive and really only allows one horse to use it at a time.  Want to buy it for me (I’m only joking I think)?
  • DIY Nets: DIY Nets offers a number of really great looking products.  Wall mounts, corner mounts, hay baskets and a number of creative combinations.  Among my favorites is the tarter basket with hay net attachment.  These are high quality products at high quality prices.  Perhaps one day I may try these.
  • Hay Chix: I do have a bit of personal experience with Hay Chix since my friend has a few of their corner feeders.  They work fantastically and hold up much better than the typical hay nets.  The materials are more forgiving than most as well.  I particularly love the corner feeder.  My friend had a large 2 bale net attached to the corner feeder and it was easy to load.  I can definitely recommend these products. 
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4 Comments

    1. That’s definitely another option. I haven’t tried those though they are quite similar to the nets, just thicker webbing. Do you go south to green pastures for winter or are you still north? We just had a warm spell, it feels like spring and we had a faux spring thunderstorm last night.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Biasini went down to Florida on Tuesday. We leave after Christmas . Biasini was “speaking ” about being out with no blanket and eating grass in a blog post I put up this week. My coach there sent me some photos of him. We have had a slight warm up here but today it is back below freezing and a nasty wind. Best wishes to you for the holidays 🐎

        Like

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