Small square bale feeders can cut hay waste by up to 12% and pay for themselves within a year when hay prices are strong, according to a University of Minnesota (UM) study.
The UM study compared the amount of hay wasted by horses feeding from basket, hayrack and slat feeders to that lost when no feeders were used in paddocks. Bodyweight changes were also examined.
The feeders are “a viable option for horse owners looking to save money and reduce the amount of hay their horses may be wasting,” says Amanda Grev, the UM graduate student who led the study.
The three feeders used represent options readily available and marketed to horse owners, she adds. All help keep forage off the ground so it can’t be trampled or contaminated by excrement.
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The slat feeder wasted only 1% of the hay fed; the basket feeder, 3%. Horses feeding at the hayrack wasted 5% of the hay, and horses fed hay without a feeder lost 13% of their hay.
The slat feeder, Grev says, was most restrictive. “Horses cannot fully immerse their noses and grab large mouthfuls of hay,” so feed intake was slightly less than that of the other two feeders. The basket and hayrack feeders brought small weight gains.
Waste could increase if hay was fed on an unlimited basis, Grev and her co-authors predict. In the study, 12 horses were divided into three, four-horse herds rotated through four paddocks with two daily feedings at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Horses were fed grass hay at 2.5% of herd bodyweight.
The extra hay savings that the $349 slat feeder provided brought a payback at about 9 months. The basket feeder, at $372, took about 11 months to pay for itself, while the $280 hayrack, with the most hay waste, took just less than a year to pay back. A $250/ton hay price was used in the calculations.
Herds gained an average of 22 pounds using the basket feeder, and 15 pounds using the hayrack. They lost up to 7 pounds using the slat feeder and 24 pounds when fed without a feeder.
Don’t put much stock into herd bodyweight results, however, Grev warns. The data collection periods were only 5 days long, and the horses may have consumed all hay if fed at 12- hour increments.
Nick Paulson is a freelance writer based in Minnetonka, Minn.
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