Hay Grid Feeders Can Reduce Horses' Intake

Hay Grid Feeders Can Reduce Horses' Intake

Horses consumed less of the offered hay when fed in the grid feeder (48%) than when fed on the ground (60%).

Photo: Thinkstock

How can we lengthen meal time while reducing calorie intake in obese horses? It might seem like a daunting task, but University of California, Davis, (UC Davis) researchers think they've found a solution: a hay grid feeder.

Obesity is linked to many equine health conditions, including insulin resistance and laminitis. To help obese horses shed pounds, owners must reduce their caloric intake by limiting meal size. This, however, comes with its own health challenges: Leaving horses—which evolved as continuous grazers—for long periods of time without feed can result in gastric ulcers.

“Stomach ulcers are produced by direct effect of gastric acid and by activation of enzymes that digest proteins by the same acid,” explained Jorge Nieto, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, an associate professor in surgical and radiological sciences at UC Davis.

Thus, the researchers set out to determine whether a hay grid feeder impacts the amount of time horses spend eating, amount of hay consumed, and intragastric pH versus feeding on the ground.

The researchers housed 10 healthy horses of various breeds and sexes in stalls with attached paddocks. Each horse received 1% of his body weight in grass hay twice per day either on the ground or in a commercial hay grid feeder, with 3.8 centimeter x 3.8 centimeter openings, for 24 hours. Then, the researchers switched the horses to the opposite treatment for 24 hours. The team collected and weighed any wasted hay every 12 hours.

Additionally, prior to starting treatment, the researchers recorded each horse's pH in the nonglandular part of the stomach and collected measurements every second for 48 hours. They also recorded horses' behavior on surveillance cameras and evaluated how long each horse spent walking, standing, eating, drinking, or lying down.

Key findings included:

  • Horses consumed more hay when fed on the ground (60%) versus in the hay grid feeder (48%) with no difference in eating time;
  • Horses consumed more hay during the day, between 7 a.m. and 7 p,m.;
  • Horses' behavior did not differ between treatments; and
  • Horses' nonglandular stomach pH did not differ between treatments.

Several veterinary researchers have suggested that a pH value below four is a good indicator that a horse needs treatment for nonglandular stomach ulcers. And while it wasn't a statistically significant finding, the team observed that hay grid horses' stomach pH wasn’t any higher than those horses eating off the ground, indicating they might still require treatment for gastric ulcers.

Take-Home Message

The researchers concluded that even with no difference in time spent eating, the use of a hay grid feeder reduced intake by 20% compared to feeding hay on the ground. Owners can use this feeder as a management tool to help reduce horses' caloric intake, and it could also potentially help reduce the risk of gastric ulcers.

Further investigation is necessary to determine if the hay grid feeder positively or negatively affected intragastric pH.

The study, "The effect of a hay grid feeder on feed consumption and measurement of the gastric pH using an intragastric electrode device in horses-a preliminary report," was published in November, 2013, in the Equine Veterinary Journal

About the Author

Kristen M. Janicki, MS, PAS

Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen began her current position as a performance horse nutritionist for Mars Horsecare, US, Inc., and Buckeye Nutrition, in 2010. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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