Picky eater from a slowfeed net? Tips/tricks? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 16 Old 11-09-2015, 09:13 PM Thread Starter
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Picky eater from a slowfeed net? Tips/tricks?

My older mare always ate out of small-holed haynet and she was always pretty happy about the whole thing. She'd alternate between hay and what grass there was in the pasture, never ran out of hay - it was an ideal situation.

Then she passed away and, of course, now I have a gelding that has 1000 opinions on everything. He always seems kind of goofy and dumb, but the longer I know him, the more I think he's just playing kinda dumb....
Who knew that a mare would have fewer opinions than a gelding? Ha.

Anyway, I am having the hardest time transitioning him to a hay net. I ideally would like to get him on a free-choice hay diet..but I just don't understand how to get him there.

I'm not sure where to start, so maybe his background is a good place to start with:

- he was stalled and flirted with malnutrition for 8 years [as in: he got hay/feed, but it was never a sufficient amount so he was chronically quite underweight]
- he was "rescued" by a woman who used small-holed haynets while her horses were tied. Otherwise she used plastic barrels that hay was placed in, then the horses pulled hay through holes in the top of the barrel.
He was fat with her, but she was feeding exclusively bluegrass and he's a typical "fat on air" Arabian..he never got enough hay to satisfy his physiological/psychological need to munch hay.
He was turned out nearly 24/7 with her, but shared a 1 acre "pasture" with 3 other geldings - not a lot of grass to be had.

He had ulcers [OBVIOUSLY] pretty badly when I brought him home, but they have since cleared up. He's still on a preventative, but he doesn't display outright ulcer symptoms any more.

Now he's turned out 24/7 on a 5-6 acre pasture with 2 goat friends.
The majority of our grass died off in early August, so I've been feeding a limited amount of hay since then. So far it's only been about 2 flakes a day of local grass hay [it's my preferred "busy hay" - lots of fiber, some nutrients, not high octane at all].

We're getting into the wetter part of the year and he tends to stand around in his run in, doesn't go out to graze, and, when I get home in the evening, he's as angry as can be - for him, a sure sign that his tummy is hurting.

So I was like "solution! I'll give you a haynet of busy hay!"....except he won't eat his busy hay out of a haynet. He'll try a few bites, then ignore it for the rest of the day.
If I pour that shunned hay out on the ground, he acts like he's never seen hay before and hoovers up all 10 pounds in thirty minutes flat.
I've tried "hunger striking" him and not giving him any more hay until he eats what is in the net, but he starts dropping serious weight surprisingly quickly.

The only way he'll eat his "busy hay" in the hay net is if I mix it half-and-half with bluegrass hay.
If his metabolism were faster, I wouldn't care...but the kiddo does notttt need that much bluegrass. He gets hyper, he gets fat, it's terrible.

If I try giving him a days' worth of hay [or more] on the ground, like I said, it will all be gone in an instant.
My goal is to have him nibbling on something all day so those ulcers of his don't try anything funny!

My tentative theory is that he's always eaten tasty-tasty hay out of haynets, therefore he's not too motivated to eat somewhat-less-tasty hay out of a net..

Has anyone solved this sort of thing?
Maybe I should try a different approach, like hiding carrots amongst the "busy hay" in his net? That way he's not looking for "tasty hay" and maybe he'll forget his little hang up..? But I could see that backfiring too.

I found an excellent method for when it's dry out - I've been shaking his hay out all over his pasture, making sure to separate any clumps. He eats all that slowly and happily, without wasting much!
But it falls apart with the rain. He would rather stand in his run in and stay dry, than get wet and eat hay.


Fabio - 13 year old Arabian/Lipizzan gelding

Rest peacefully, Lacey.
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post #2 of 16 Old 11-09-2015, 09:22 PM
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LOL!! What a big baby! I've done that too, spreading hay out so they "graze" on it, really does work great till it gets wet!!

Wonder if you could make some type of sugar spray (lol) and spray that on it? Like don't use too much sugar but something to make it a little sweet or tastier? Or maybe you could try hay from another provider? When I was hay shopping when I moved to Ohio in September, I wawnted to get stocked up for winter. Well my picky horse being picky...I had bought 60 bales to start with from one provider...he ended up turning his nose to it...So now I'm reselling it and taking a loss on it to get rid of it fast to make room for other hay. So I started shopping around and getting one bale from a few different guys...some he liked some he didnt. I finally found one that he seemed happy with, he and his friend eat it in the slow feeder nets well too...so thats whos getting all my cash this winter! Seriously they were all like orchard grass mixes of hay...but every pasture is different! Maybe check craigslist or facebook groups, see if you can find a few local people and pick up a bale from each and see what he thinks.
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post #3 of 16 Old 11-09-2015, 09:32 PM
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I was thinking a little molasses mixed with water sprinkled over the hay net or may be mixed in with it.

One thing I think with the small hole nets is that, depending on the hay, it almost becomes too hard to get hay out of it if it the coarser, stemmier kind (which it sounds like the best for Mr. Easykeeper). So, if that is the case could you get a net with slightly bigger holes to see if that would help?

If there are budgetary considerations, you can make hay nets fairly easy from left over baler twine thus making the holes the exact size you want (I've done a few of those nets in my time and they don't take long to make). One solution using the home made ones is to do a number of rows of small holes and then a row or two of big holes then return to small holes again -- this will let him get at the hay a little easier but not let him pull too much out at once.
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post #4 of 16 Old 11-09-2015, 09:56 PM
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Yeah, carrots in it is one idea, or if he'll eat it with the Bluegrass, can you just gradually reduce the amount of that mixed with the rest, or put bluegrass in the centre surrounded by other hay he has to get to first?
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post #5 of 16 Old 11-10-2015, 12:16 PM
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You already wrote he has eaten from hay nets before so he does know what it is, how it works...

The haynet idea is to slow them down with their consumption and trickle feed their belly longer....
So the bottom line is the horse has to work some to eat his hay.

It isn't that he won't eat what you give him....
It is that he must put forth some effort and he doesn't want to.

He doesn't need to be enticed to eat the hay...you wrote he gobbles it up if you dump it in a pile or spread it out....
No sweeteners needed....he needs to want to eat.
When he gets hungry and can not get you to do his bidding he will motivate himself to start chowing down from the slow-feed net..
His choice to stand in his run-in and not eat. He has the ability to go out in his pasture too and munch the grass, he doesn't want to.
Let him have a attitude....

My opinion....stop catering to him.
You put food out for him and allow him access to pasture with his goat friends if he wants...he doesn't want. So let him be ****y and have a attitude....
He can and will figure it out pretty fast that this is the way it is....

Only thing that comes to my mind though is if the haynet is hung at the wrong height it could discourage him from eating.
Head not to high, head not to low...head just right and he will eat.

I also have a "hoover"....just gobbles his hay.
He was so ****ed when he had to work for his hay....he slammed, he yanked, he pulled that haynet to death....now, he just eats, slightly noisy letting me know of his displeasure of having to work for his hay thumping it around.
It did slow him down enough that he leaves my other horses a chance to eat their ration.
I feed my hoover twice the amount of any of my other horses and he is still done faster than them.
When I get ****ed that he threatens, and then steals the others food, he is locked out of the barn area and eats alone, the other horses share their nets and allow peaceful munching to occur.
He can finish before everyone else and watch them continue to eat in peace...stomping his hoof in temper-tantrum... TOUGH!

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post #6 of 16 Old 11-10-2015, 01:25 PM
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I second trying a bigger hole net. I use some made out of rope, very soft. The holes are large, but it does keep the hay in one place.
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post #7 of 16 Old 11-10-2015, 05:51 PM
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Originally Posted by horselovinguy View Post

When he gets hungry and can not get you to do his bidding he will motivate himself to start chowing down from the slow-feed net..
His choice to stand in his run-in and not eat. He has the ability to go out in his pasture too and munch the grass, he doesn't want to.
Let him have a attitude....

Yup, my initial & general attitude about this sort of issue. I think the attitude 'they're not going to starve themselves' is OK generally, but have known of human & animal exceptions to that 'rule'. Wallaby has said she's tried leaving him to it & he doesn't eat & loses weight - so I presumed that hasn't been a 'half baked' effort where she's given in & fed him otherwise, but done it long term. Of course, definitely worth considering if you just weren't 'strict' enough tho Wallaby.

An eg. of what I'd consider an unhelpful approach... a friend told me her kids will only eat white bread, noodles, drink softdrink, etc. Won't touch veggies, etc. She said she'd tried the 'healthy option only' approach, but it doesn't work they won't eat and end up feeling sick, so she then has to give them a soft drink or cake or something, to quickly get their blood sugar up again... Especially with kids old enough to explain things to, not the way I'd go about it...

But with this horse, considering likely gut issues & weightloss, it might be safer to avoid further gut issues and take a 'softer' approach. I don't think there's any harm in enticing the effort with a few buried bits of carrot or such. I wouldn't coat/spray the hay with molasses or such though, as that - aside from adding more sugar all round, will likely just make him fussier about hay(have to give Johnny cordial, to get him to drink any water...).

Was thinking, with previous gut issues, more likely there could be current ones as well anyway, which are making him crabbier & pickier, and more inclined to serious issues if he does go hungry, so I'd be inclined to give him a herbal gut support too.
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post #8 of 16 Old 11-10-2015, 06:12 PM
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I have a quad and often load a bale on that and drop small amounts of hay as I drive around the pasture. If too much comes off I pick most of it up and scatter it elsewhere. I head for the far reaches to drop hay. This keeps the horses moving as they check out pile after pile. Mine often take a nibble then check out the next, another nibble and move on. A bale makes 20-30 piles. Check your horses gums above his front teeth to see if the net has rubbed them raw. If so, the holes are too small. You'll have to feed loose hay until his gums heal.

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post #9 of 16 Old 11-10-2015, 06:28 PM
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I was also going to say to try a slow-feed hay net with larger holes. Or start with a regular net all-together and slowly transition him to the smaller holes over time.

Or, mix 50/50 with the hay he DOES like and eats, and very slowly mix less over time.

I've dealt with picky eaters before and really the key thing is SLOW changes over time to transition them to where you want them to be.

I'm kinda on the same level as horselovinguy. If he doesn't want to eat out of his hay net .... well that's just tough! When he gets hungry enough, he'll eat.

How long, thus far, have you tried to "ride it out" and see if he will eat? You mentioned he started dropping weight but was that artificial "hay belly weight" or was it REAL weight? Curious on how long you tried it for.
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post #10 of 16 Old 11-11-2015, 12:42 AM Thread Starter
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I appreciate all the answers!

I'll try to respond to you all -

Evilamc, I KNOW! He is the biggest baby, and so overly dramatic about everything. It's hysterical [mostly because he's usually sensible when it comes to important things...except hay, obviously. haha]. :)
The local hay is, smell-wise, the sweetest hay I feed. He's such a weirdo. haha

Chevaux, slightly changing the size of the holes is a good suggestion. Part of the problem is that no matter the size of the hole, if he decides he wants to eat it, he'll eat it WAY too fast.
The only thing I've found that barely slows him down when he's in "oh my gosh, I am SO HUNGRY and look! You gave me some orchard grass!"-mode is double-bagging his hay in two nets with 2" holes. But, if he's not feeling it, he acts like one 2"-holed net is simply impossible to use...

Loosie, good idea about surrounding the orchard grass with "less desirable" hay. I tried a variation on that tonight - I divided his serving of orchard grass [he gets about 3lbs/day to maintain his weight] into small handfuls and carefully hid those handfuls throughout the 15lb net of local grass. He was pretty into it when I left, it remains to be seen if it kept his interest...

On the topic of "starving him out" I tried once this year and once last year. Last year [early springtime so hay wasn't as needed, it was just mostly a nicety], he fussed about hay for two full weeks [weeks that included numerous break-ins to the goat pen to eat their dirty hay/bedding, and being generally miserable/fussy/mouthy] before I took the hay net down and dumped out the hay. He immediately ate the hay and perked right up.
This year I tried something "similar" in late October - I hung a hay net up, filled with fresh local hay, and he nibbled a little initially but poo-pooed it almost immediately.
Cue the break-ins to the goat pen to eat dirty hay, fussy/angry behavior! He started getting charge-y with me at meal times [I feed a ration balancer as well as hay] which he KNOWS is not ok - this is a deeply ingrained habit from before me. He's always been very prone to aggression over food and he KNOWS I will come after him if he thinks about being aggressive with me, so [now] he's quite respectful at mealtime, but it always comes back when he perceives a "lack of food."
Despite being run off with a lunge whip [and occasionally getting smacked in the butt with said whip because he didn't move fast enough] every time he crossed the line [I literally have a line that he is not allowed to cross at meal time..haha], he started getting more and more anxious-aggressive with me over food. Not necessarily intentionally dangerous, but wild-eyed and "crazy" about it - like an addict who needs a fix...
After a week-ish of escalating negative "stuff," I started noticing that his [formerly well padded with fat from the summer = nearly invisible] topline was protruding. He never got ribby-thin, but I'm pretty unwilling to let it get that far while we're heading into winter. He isn't one of those horses that, conformationaly, the ribs pop out on quickly so he'd have to be REALLY skinny before ribs started showing. He reminds me of a TWH, how some of those lines have those funny hips that make them appear perpetually skinny - he has those hips.

Anyway, his topline shot way up kind of suddenly and I was like "whoa, whoa, whoa, too far" and dumped that hay net hay out.

One of my main concerns about just making him tough it out, besides the behavioral stuff and the potential ulcer exacerbation, is that [at least last year, my first winter with him] he seems to verge on being a hard keeper during the winter [which are relatively mild here]. He is an outrageously easy keeper in the summer, but last winter was a trial just to keep weight on.
My hoof trimmer actually mentioned his weight loss and asked about his diet because she was surprised at how skinny he had gotten. That was on 20lbs of local hay, 5lbs of alfalfa, 1lb of ration balancer, AND 1lb of alfalfa pellets per day. He wasn't like "rescue-case"-skinny, but my trimmer rarely comments on weight...unless she's telling me my horses are too fat!! haha
I had his teeth done soon after my trimmer's comment because I was concerned that they might be an issue...and the vet barely had anything to do. He does have one very misaligned molar [it's placed more centrally, under the right side of his tongue, vs next to his tongue like his other teeth], but it wasn't causing any issues.

He does get 2tbsp of slippery elm bark everyday in his ration balancer [wetness level: soupy. He doesn't care if it's 50% water, 50% food, it just better not be dry or just damp!! haha] as a natural ulcer preventative. I would like to, at some point, get him on something like UGuard as well, just to be safe. But, for now, it's just slippery elm.


Horseluvinguy, see the response I wrote to loosie^ :) I agree with you on one level for sure!
From his reaction to "starving him out", sweet-gentle-goofy-horse to whirling-dervish-crazy-agressive-horse, my gut says that there is something wrong with doing that to him. Horses don't have that kind of delayed strong reaction, in my experience, unless something very painful or scary is being triggered. I really don't know if it's a mental or physical thing for him, but, either way, "starving him out" does not seem to foster anything positive in this horse.

I appreciate your thoughts though! I do tend to be a little soft on my boys, so it's good for me to consider if I'm being too soft with Fabs here!

whisperbaby22, good idea! I have a net made of thick plastic-y rope and that's his least favorite one. I have another one made out of plastic-y "thread" and he likes that one a lot better. I wonder how he would react to rope! Maybe it's a matter of finding the netting material he prefers....

This could actually be a very valid issue - the hays he prefers from the net are soft, the net he prefers is the softest available to him. Maybe the combo of the not-soft local hay and *any* plastic-net roughness is just too much...

Saddlebag, I'll check him for mouth sores. I had not thought about that. That would be a good thing to check for sure!

Beau159, check the reply I wrote Loosie for the details on my "starving him out" attempts.. :) The weight he lost was definitely topline/hip weight [and all his summer fat pads...but no one is mourning those fat pads! haha].

I'll give a slower transition a try. I do tend to jump ahead! Talking, listening, teaching, working, anything with levels, I try to jump ahead and everybody gets confused. Maybe I did something like that here without thinking about it!
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Fabio - 13 year old Arabian/Lipizzan gelding

Rest peacefully, Lacey.

Last edited by Wallaby; 11-11-2015 at 12:48 AM.
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