Whether you want to switch to slow feeding or stop wasting hay, a net can be a great solution. Slow feed hay nets are light weight, portable, and easy to use, but choosing a hole size can be overwhelming. To help make that decision a little less confusing, we've created a short hole selection guide comprised of the answers to some of the most common questions we receive.
To slow down consumption and eliminate waste, you want to stick with a hole that is 2" or less. We recommend starting with 1.75". The smaller the hole, the longer it takes to work the hay out. Ideally, you want to provide a continuous supply of hay 24/7. By keeping forage in front of your horse longer, you can help avoid or alleviate many digestive, metabolic, and behavioral issues.
No hay net is indestructible. Some horses get very frustrated with small holes and will chew a hole in the net. Typically, this behavior is temporary and will subside after the first bale or two. A study by the University of Minnesota revealed it takes approximately 5 feedings for a horse to understand and become comfortable with a slow feed hay net.
90-95% of horses have no trouble with 1.75" holes. However, there are a few who refuse to play by the rules and require either a bigger hole and/or a thicker material. Luckily, hay nets are easy and inexpensive to repair. Generally, the hay savings and health benefits far out way the occasional hole.
To reduce waste without slowing down intake, look for a hole that is 2.5" or bigger. Large holes allow for easy access to forage while preventing horses and livestock from squandering it.
Bigger holes are ideal for horses that struggle with small holes. The bigger the hole, the less likely they are to chew holes in the net.
Typically, larger/heavier breeds like those in the draft or warmblood families do better with larger holes. Special needs horses, like the blind or seniors with dental issues, are good candidates for large holes. Horses facing harsh winter conditions may also benefit from larger holes.
Large holes are the best choice for hay that is long and thick like alfalfa or straw. Thick stemmed forage can be difficult and sometimes impossible to pull through small holes. Remember the goal is to keep them busy, not frustrated.
Cattle do better with 3" holes. Extracting hay through smaller holes can be challenging since they do not have top teeth and rely on their tongue to grab forage.
Ready to Make the Switch?
Finding the right net may require some trial and error. Don't be afraid to experiment with different hole sizes. There is no one size fits all. Horses are a lot like people. They have different personalities, different levels of patience, and different speeds of learning. Most horses adjust to slow feeding quickly and smoothly, but some are frustrated at first and determined to destroy anything in their way.
Just remember, no hay net is indestructible and there is a learning curve for your horse. Be prepared to spend a little time in the beginning to help your horse understand the new feeding concept.