by Bob Coleman | kentuckyhorse.org
While feeding hay to horses is certainly a common practice, what can horse owners do to control waste? It is certainly easy to just throw the hay on the ground and let the horses clean it up. However, this method of feeding can result in significant amounts of wasted feed due to trampling and soiling of the hay.
How can horse owners reduce waste? The simple answer is to use a suitable hay feeder. One feeder that can be used for 2-3 horses at one time is a simple box. The feeder is made with a 2 x 4 lumber frame covered with ¾ inch plywood. The dimensions for this feeder are 4’ wide, 6’ long and 2’ high. If you lay this out carefully, you only need two sheets of 4’ x 8’ plywood. Horse owners can cover the edges of the feeder with something like sheet rock strips to reduce the incidence of wood chewing. Make sure the metal strips have no sharp edges.
With this box feeder, be careful to only feed what the horses need for a day. This regular feeding schedule can also aid in controlling waste as the amount of hay in the feeder at one time will not exceed the capacity of the feeder.
Will horses still root out some hay while feeding? Yes, that does happen but in general, using a suitable feeder results in 5-7% waste while no feeder results in 20-35% waste. Hay is expensive and controlling waste results in saving feed and reduced feed costs. With three horses being fed 20 lbs of hay a day, they waste 30%; that is 6 lbs of hay per horse per day. The horse owner will need to either feed more hay to meet requirements and account for the hay being wasted or the horses will lose weight because their requirements are not being met. Common reasons for feeding on the ground are because it is natural for the horse to eat from the ground and they clean it all up before I feed more. While the feeding at a low level may be similar to the natural grazing of the horse, cleaning it all up does not happen as much as we would like it to.
Controlling hay loss because of waste helps reduce feed cost and in no time, the feeder is paid for with those savings.