Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays’ take on things and experiences

Slow Hay

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I want to chronicle my project to get slow-feeders for providing hay to our horses, especially since my initial intent was to buy feed boxes because I didn’t want to build them myself. It didn’t quite work out that way in the end. I searched online and found most images were of home-made versions. One site offered to sell a set of plans to build your own. I opted to order a plastic box that most closely matched a version that appealed to me.

As I described in an earlier post, that online order flopped and I got my money back. I gave in and decided to try making two of them myself, based on the images of others that I liked. What primarily inspired me to follow through was an introduction to a local welder who said he could make custom grates to my specifications.

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I had him make two. It wasn’t cheap, but since I planned to use materials I already had lying around to build the boxes, I would still be able to do it myself for a third of what it cost to buy them. I used plywood for a base and 2×6 boards for sides on the first box. The second box ended up being a combination of plywood and boards for the sides. I had a bunch of 1×1 lumber that I played with to brace the bottom and lift the base off the ground.

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To prevent the horses from lifting the grate out of the box, I added iron corner pieces on one end and a chain on the other. The horses are comfortable with the chain because it is what we use to secure all our gates. To add hay, I unhook the chain and the grate comes out easily. I added handles on each end to make it easy to pick up and turn over to remove the hay dust that accumulates in the bottom. I thought about using slots on the ends to sweep out debris, but it ended up being easier to just tip the box and dump it out.

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It has been working well for us to add flakes as needed, instead of trying to always fit a full bale beneath the grate. We basically just fill it so the grate is up to the top. As they eat, it drops as the level of hay goes down. Sometimes they eat all of one end first and the grate ends up at quite an angle, but mostly they eat it fast enough that I find the grate almost level and near the bottom by morning. Best of all, they are eating every bit of the hay, instead of tossing it on the ground.

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I am particularly thrilled with how well it works to mimic natural grazing. The horses nibble to get a bite and then pull it out between the grate squares and munch away. Their heads are down, as opposed to the other feeders we have that hold the hay up at their standing head level. Those feeders allow the horses to push their noses deep to get at some morsel of a bite they want, and then they can toss their head and flip the hay they passed up onto the ground. The slow-feeder grate only lets them get a modest mouth-full of a bite and they need to tear it out with a motion that is identical to how they naturally break off bites of grass.

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Our horses have proved to me that they can eat together, two at a box, but I often have found them taking turns. I think it is part of their hierarchy playing out. When all four had 360° access to the old feeders, they would do this dance of moving each other around all the time. The new set up makes it easier to force a subordinate horse to wait its turn, instead.

I am absolutely thrilled that the horses have adapted to this new method of being fed hay, and that my (begrudgingly) homemade boxes are performing as I hoped they would. It is working so well, I am contemplating how I will adapt the design to work in a corner of their stalls in the barn. It all starts with the grate, and I’m thinking about testing a cheaper option than the custom welded solution, because this time, I will need 4 of them.

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Written by johnwhays

January 21, 2015 at 7:00 am

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