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 make the horse's ration last longer, or to limit its overall intake.
Recent research from the University of Minnesota shows that using hay nets with smaller holes is effective for limiting the rate of roughage ingestion in horses.
Eight horse were involved in the study. They were were housed in individual box stalls, 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 2 days, before intake was recorded over three days. They then had two days of a wash out period during which they were 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 (control) consumed hay at the rate of 1.49kg/hr. 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 net and control for the amount of hay consumed (both 95%% of hay offered); but medium and small hay nets restricted hay intake to 89% and 72% respectively.
They conclude that their results demonstrate that the medium and small sized nets were effective in decreasing both rate and amount of forage consumed by adult horses.
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