Going the free-choice hay route. - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 18 Old 09-06-2010, 09:20 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Washington, USA.
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Going the free-choice hay route.

I'm considering going to free-choice hay, but I'm having a hard time figuring out how to go about it. I have two shelters. One they have access to 24/7, it's a 12X12 stall open to the pasture. The other is a maybe 10X8 three-sided lean-to type thing in the further back pasture that they only have access to during the day. At night, I pull them from that pasture and keep them in the front one.

I'm going into winter, which means lots and lots of rain for WA, so leaving a round bale outside is asking for trouble. But I fear the shelters are too small, and the hay would be ruined between them using the stall as a bathroom in nasty weather [god forbid they get wet when they have to poo] and tracking mud through it.

I was thinking about getting a big camping-like tent that I could use in the pasture, do you think that would work better? That way, they can walk in and out of the shelters, continue to potty in them when they deem it necessary, and I wouldn't have to risk them tracking too much mud into the hay.

Also, I'm not sure I could get a roundbale. Could I just throw out, say, half a bale and add to it accordingly so they always have more then they can eat? Or do you think that would get too expensive?

Should I slowly introduce more hay? Or can I start with half a bale? [Note: I currently go through about 4 flakes a day.] I know changes in diet should be made gradually, but I'm not sure it applies to grass hay in this situation. Maybe silly, but worth asking all the same.

My grandparents should be bringing me hay towards the end of the month. Alfalfa. I know I can't free-feed that, but can I put a flake or two out at a time? So they can go through it? It's free hay, and not bad stuff either.

Last question, I promise! If I cannot get started on this free-choice route until closer to next summer, should I still keep it covered? If the sun bleaches it, would it ruin the nutrtion of the hay? I would still only throw out half a bale at a time [these are 80-100lb bales, by the way].

Cookies to those that read this, and my sincerest gratitude for anyone that can offer input. I'm really interested in trying this, but I'm not about to get started only half-cocked, or however that saying goes. =]

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
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post #2 of 18 Old 09-06-2010, 09:28 AM
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: Wyoming
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I feed free choice hay during the winter also here in Wyoming. I put out round bales when I do that, and just set it out in the pasture. It gets covered by snow daily and they still just eat it with no issues. Even feeding baled hay, it gets put out in the snow and they eat it from the feed mangers outside.
My three will go through a round bale in about 2 weeks. They eat constantly eat the first day or two, it seems they just stand by the bale and munch, then the "newness" wears off and they eat normally.
During the 7 months of ice and snow here, everyone feeds by putting the hay outside and letting the horses eat free choice to help keep up their body heat. Not alot of folks have barns/stables here, the horses have lean to's but rarely use them, they just use the buildings for wind breaks.
I know rain is different than snow, but it still wets the hay either way.Go ahead and put it outside, they will be fine.
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post #3 of 18 Old 09-06-2010, 11:10 AM
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Alachua, FL
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You might want to buy a hay ring. I keep hay out 24/7 all year I have a pallet that I sit the roll up on so that it can drain, and then put the hay ring around it, so they don't stomp all in it. My 2 guys eat a roll in about a week.
I would introduce free choice over a week or so, my sister has a paint that has colicd twice from not leaving the hay roll till its done.
To start with I would put the roll where they have access to it for several hours then start leaving them longer and longer till its 24 hrs. That way they know that they can leave it and it will be there when they get back to it.

Last edited by waterbuggies; 09-06-2010 at 11:13 AM.
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post #4 of 18 Old 09-06-2010, 12:44 PM
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We just leave ours in the field and they hang around it all day so for this reason dont put it to near water or gates.

Also i would not put it in anything confined as if there are any kinds of arguments one horse might get stuck. plus they will tend to trample it and use it as a bed which is a waste.

with two horse id expect to replace every ten days to two weeks

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post #5 of 18 Old 09-06-2010, 01:22 PM
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Location: Watertown, MN
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I basically feed free choice but I don't have a hay bale out there. I don't have any shelter for it and with only two horses they won't eat it fast enough to keep it from molding. Then there's the issue of finding clean round bales around here.

This is what I do. I feed between 2-3% (more when it's very cold) of their body weight in hay. I spread it all over the paddock in 6-12 piles about 20 feet apart. I keep an eye on what's left when I feed, what I like to see is just a little bit left (1-2 flakes). That tells me they aren't hoovering it all up and standing around for hours with no food, but I'm not dealing with moldy hay that's been sitting out in the rain.

I don't really feed in my shelter because they'll start peeing/pooping in it and it just makes a mess for me to clean up.
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post #6 of 18 Old 09-06-2010, 08:24 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Washington, USA.
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Hmm... I worry they wouldn't go through it fast enough to avoid having moldy hay if I left it out. It will be raining almost constantly here. My mare was a pampered little show princess in her previous life, and she's going to be totally blown away when she doesn't get "new" hay. Even more blown away when she will only have access to rained on hay, which is why I'm considering the tent. By tent, I just mean a roof, not anything with sides.

I have no reason to worry about feeding them in a confined space, they share hay in the stall and lean-to all the time, and neither of them have ever gotten so upset as to do more than pin their ears at each other.

I couldn't put it on a pallet, that's just asking for Gracie to get her foot stuck in it and breaking her leg. I like the idea though, I wonder if I can find something similar that would be more Gracie-proof. Any ideas?

Thanks so much for the input, guys. I really hope I can get this to work out. =]

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
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post #7 of 18 Old 09-06-2010, 08:29 PM
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Well if you want to do it totally free choice, I've considering one of these: Duplessis Covered Round Bale Horse Hay Feeders

I don't have the money for this right now, so I just do it my way. Enough hay for them to eat for 12 hrs, 2x a day. There's usually just a little left in the morning/night feeding. Otherwise they make a big mess or it gets covered in snow. If I had more horses it would be different, but with just two I'm kinda stuck.

I've heard good things about these feeders though.

Oh yeah, the hay shouldn't go moldy after sitting out for 12 hrs or so. Yeah they might trample a bunch of it in the mud, but with free choice feeding you are going to get more wastage no matter what you do.
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post #8 of 18 Old 09-06-2010, 08:48 PM Thread Starter
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Location: Washington, USA.
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It looks like a dollhouse! Haha. They don't ship this far west, though.

I think what I'll have to do will be much like what you do, MN, giving them more than they can eat and adding accordingly. I want to keep waste down as much as I can, I'm certainly not made of money. The tent I'm thinking of is like this;

I know people who use it as shelter in a bind and it works pretty well. I only have two horses, so it will be big enough for them. It seems to be the least expensive route, in any case.

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
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post #9 of 18 Old 09-07-2010, 10:51 AM
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That looks like it could work. Does it stake down? I've thought about something like that just for summer shelter in the pasture, but haven't decided yet...
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post #10 of 18 Old 09-07-2010, 11:37 AM
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Originally Posted by MN Tigerstripes View Post
Well if you want to do it totally free choice, I've considering one of these: Duplessis Covered Round Bale Horse Hay Feeders
We would never consider those feeders. Way too many places for a horse to get hurt.

Watch a horse eat. They pull and throw their hay around (if fed in the natural grazing position). With those feeders - they would be hitting their heads. If a horse came up behind them and they tried to pull their head out quickly . . .
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