Slow Food – Fast Health

Horses evolved to eat full stem, sparse grasses, while on the move.  A few stems here, a few steps, a bite there, a 1/4 mile, then another few stems.  The grasses on the Steppe of Asia were dry, sparse, and mixed with broad-leaf plants.  The near constant walking aided the digestive tract.  The near constant, slow-intake grazing matched the slow, but steady output of gastric acid in the stomach.

Fast forward to domestication, and current stable practices.  Horses are often stationary in stalls 12 to 24 hours per day, with large amounts of food placed in the stall twice per day.  They eat the available food quickly, in large mouthfuls.  Then they wait… and wait… and get impatient for the next feeding.  Their stomachs are on fire with gastric acid, and no fiber to digest.

Field board often solves some of these problems, with the ability to move and steady intake of forage.  It can also create other health problems with unlimited access to lush grass.  The slow food movement has entered the equine world.

Slow Feeders involve limiting the rate at which the horse can consume the available hay.  Spreading the consumption out over time means fewer problems with stomach acid upset.  Feeding grass hay means fewer problems with insulin resistance and laminitis.  Feeding near the ground means less choke.

We recently built a slow feeder for Fudge.  It is based on a pallet design, and was built with left-over scraps from other projects.  Yes, we have more left-overs in the barn than we do in the ‘fridge.  We did have to purchase (2) 2″x6″x10′ boards to complete the project.  It took three hours to cut and screw the pieces together, and three hours to coat it with opaque stain.  (Note to wives:  the 3-hour trip to shop in Home Depot for 2×6′s is not included in the time estimate for the project.)

The design is a box the size of a pallet, 48″x40″, and 36″ high.  The top is a grid made from 2 layers of hog-panel.  The layers are adjusted to produce the smallest holes possible.  We have used wire ties to temporarily connect the hog-panels together, while we see how fast the horses can consume the hay.  After some observations, we will tack-weld the layers together.  This design will easily hold two square bales, and can hold three if the bales are inserted on their side.

The bottom line:  the horses consume the hay slower, they are entertained for longer during the day, and I am making fewer trips to the paddock to put out hay.  The downfall is that the horses stand in one place to consume the hay.  Stay tuned for the next farm improvement – Paddock Paradise, and it’s use for an EPM recovery.  I highly recommend the book, “Paddock Paradise,” by Jamie Jackson.

Best site for more information on Slow Feeders and Paddock Paradise:  http://paddockparadise.wetpaint.com/

Pallet base, small wood strips to limit bottom holes added later.

Pallet base, small wood strips to limit bottom holes added later.

 

2 sides on, (2) 2x6 uprights on each corner

2 sides on, (2) 2x6 uprights on each corner

 

uprights are screwed together and to pallet base

uprights are screwed together and to pallet base

 

On side, ready for stain.  2x4 top rail added for stability of sides.

On side, ready for stain. 2x4 top rail added for stability of sides.

 

Hog-panel grid, 2 layers adjusted for small holes.  Will connect with chain and snap inside box

Hog-panel grid, 2 layers adjusted for small holes. Will connect with chain and snap inside box

 

If I had to do this again, I would try to find a liquid goods wire pallet, or a liquid goods plastic pallet (both have sides), and modify it for use.  Make sure that any feeder has sides high enough to prevent the horses from getting their feet inside.  Make it heavy enough so they can’t tip it over, and strong enough to resist kicking.

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