With equine obesity rates and laminitis awareness rising in recent decades, the use of the slow feeder apparatus has exploded! Nearly every horse store (online or brick-n-mortor) sells a shocking variety of devices designed to increase the amount of time your horse spends chewing roughage, salivating, and buffering the stomach. For owners with horses at risk for laminitis, this is a blessing as the number of tools and resources available for such "easy keepers" has historically been bleak! However, with time and experience using such tools, we've learned that there are inherent dangers as well as advantages. Like most things, there are trade offs. This article brings to light six unique dangers of slow feeder devices and considers their alternatives.
1. Forage Match VS Mismatch:
I'm going to start with the not-so-obvious danger of slow feeders. It's a phenomenon that I've noticed occurring with more and more frequency; horse owners applying slow feeders when they shouldn't! You see, it's VERY important to realize WHY we are using a slow feeder before we purchase one. Slow feeders are necessary when your horse's forage does not MATCH their caloric need. Let me explain by starting with two examples.
a) A barn full of performance horses are eating alfalfa hay out of slow feed hay nets. The trainer was very proud of the homemade slow feed hay nets that had been hung from every stall. They had designed such feeders to be easily filled with several day's worth of forage, and were very happy with how clean they made the stalls. However, the same trainer was concerned with the high cost of their monthly feed store bill. To be honest, it didn't hit me until after I had driven away, but the use of these slow feeders was the root of this barns feed problem! The alfalfa hay flakes were very tightly packed, so when they loaded the long, skinny hay nets with these flakes, the horses were having to work too hard to pull any hay out. The horses were losing weight fast and the barn was spending a lot of money on grain trying to keep the horses show ready. The root of the problem was not the forage or the feed, but the misapplication of the slow feeders. The horses simply were not eating enough hay on a daily basis to meet their caloric needs. I immediately called up the trainer and suggested they remove the slow feeders so that the horses could eat MORE of the appropriately matched forage.
b) A new client asked what slow feed hay net I suggested for her horse that didn't like the stemmy, mature hay being offered. In this scenario, the forage being provided to the overweight gelding in moderate work already matched the horse's caloric needs. Therefore, there was NO reason to use a slow feeder! This was especially true since the horse didn't really like the forage anyway. Introducing a slow feeder device would only further lower the horse's daily dry matter consumption, create nutrient deficiency and negative behaviors.
This hay sample appears mature (implying low calorie) an