Using hay nets with smaller holes is effective for limiting the rate of roughage ingestion in horses, research has shown.
Horses have evolved to spend much of the day grazing. However, modern systems of horse management often restrict the time available. This may contribute to problems such as gastric ulceration and can result in behavioural problems.
Sometimes, it is desirable to reduce the intake of roughage – either to prolong the period during which the horse is grazing, or to limit its intake.
The latest issue of Equine Science Update reports that researchers from the University of Minnesota examined the effect of hay nets of different mesh size on the rate of ingestion and total hay intake.
Eight horse were involved in the study.
They were were housed in individual stables, and fed hay off the floor (control treatment) or from hay nets with one of three different-sized holes. The mesh size ranged from 15.2cm (large), to 4.4cm (medium) and 3.2cm (small).
During the trial period, hay was available for two four-hour periods each day.
Horses were allowed to become accustomed to each type of net for two days, before intake was recorded over three days. They then had two days of a wash-out period, during which they were kept as a group in an outdoor paddock.
The researchers found a significant difference in the rate of consumption between all treatment groups.
Horses fed hay off the floor consumed hay at the rate of 1.49 kilograms an hour. Consumption of hay from hay nets was 1.33kg/hr, 1.11kg/hr, 0.88kg/hr for large, medium and small-sized holes respectively.
They found no difference between the large mesh hay net and control for the amount of hay consumed (95 percent of hay offered in both cases); but medium and small hay nets restricted hay intake to 89 percent and 72 percent respectively.
The researchers concluded: “These results demonstrate that the medium net and small net were effective in decreasing both rate and amount of forage consumed by adult horses.”
The effect of hay net design on rate and amount of forage consumed by adult horses
E.C. Glunk, W. Weber, and K.L. Martinson
Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 33 (2013) 362