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    Improve the way you feed your horse

    ArticleThursday 31 May 2018
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    The evolution of the Forager Slow Feeder

     

    The Haygain Forager Slow Feeder was developed after research carried out by equine nutritionist Dr Andrea Ellis found that horses generally had finished their nighttime ration of forage by midnight, meaning they’d sometimes wait at least 8 hours before they were fed again.

     

    The result is that horses show signs of aggression and upset when feeding time came around each morning. It’s well documented that a horse need only go 4 hours with an empty stomach before it’s chances of developing equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) increase.

     

    The realisation that a product was needed to increase feed intake times while reducing stress at set feeding points was acknowledged and the Forager was born.

     

    Trickle feeding

     

    Horses are trickle feeders and their mental and digestive health is reliant on them grazing for the majority of the day. In the wild, horses would graze for up to 20 hours per day, but as our management regimes have changed, so too has the horses grazing habits.

     

    For our convenience and to manage weight, we limit the forage intake of our horses, often providing their ration in hay-nets or hay bars for ease and cleanliness within the stable. Busy schedules of owners, an increase in performance demands, weight control and travelling to competitions and training sessions all dictates that we don’t offer ad lib forage to the horse as we perhaps should. This management regime can actually leave the horse with forage for just 10% of their day, leaving the remaining 90% for them to entertain themselves.

     

    This system can leave horses feeling incredibly agitated and can cause them increased amounts of stress. Their coping mechanism may be in the form of crib biting, weaving and box walking, traits that are undesired in the horse. Not only that, the horses can develop negative health issues such as gastric ulcers, colic, laminitis and equine metabolic syndrome.

     

    The Forager Slow Feeder bin had to allow for a natural feeding position with the head down, while making it more difficult to extract the forage, slowing horses down over a period of time.

     

     

     

    The prevention of health issues

     

    Restricting a horses forage intake has a detrimental impact on their overall health, triggering issues such as laminitis, gastric ulcers and colic. Once a horse has a predisposition to these issues, they’re always at a higher risk of having complications for the remainder of their life. It is essential for the owner to strictly minimise the chances of these health defects occurring in the first place.

     

    Access to good quality forage is essential for horse health, particularly those that spend a great deal of their time stabled. Forage should make up the majority of a horse’s diet (at least 50% of the total diet) and should provide between 50-100% of their energy intake. Trickle feeding these nutrients from forage into the gut maintains blood nutrient levels providing constant energy and preventing the peaks and troughs in blood glucose noted when meal feeding cereals, the latter of which can lead to undesirable behaviours. The fluctuation of blood sugar levels is what triggers laminitic episodes and the development of equine metabolic syndrome. Treatment of these issues is limited and strict diets are advised. Once a horse has a predisposition to these issues, they’re likely to have ongoing health concerns for life so avoiding these is essential.

     

    The constant chewing associated with the slow feeding device also results in consistent saliva production so the buffering action can take place in the stomach. The steady and consistent production of saliva aids to provide a buffer mat in the lower region of the stomach, limiting the splash of acid onto the sensitive upper part of the stomach. When the buffer mat isn’t present the splashing of the acid causes ulceration and bleeding of the upper stomach region, a very painful and troubling issue for the horse. Horses with ulcers very rarely show signs of willing and often have to have time off from training and competing to resolve the issues and to enable them recover fully.

     

    Colic prevalence can also be avoided with correct forage management. Maximising forage intake is one of the kay ways an owner can reduce the horses chance of having colic as forage helps to maintain gastrointestinal tract function. As a result, when the horse is starved for periods of time, they’re more likely to show symptoms of abdominal pain and discomfort. Feeding from a trickle feeder will slow down the pace at which the horse eats its forage, so it will last them longer and the trickle feeding action will promote gut health to help prevent colic.

     

    While it would be ideal to offer unlimited forage to the horse, this isn’t always possible. Pleasure or companion horses can easily become overweight if given ad lib access to good quality forage so offering their ration in the form of a slow feeder can help to ensure they slow the pace they’re eating, yet still having plentiful forage for their digestive and mental health.

     

     

    Restricting calories but keeping the horse busy eating

    The concept of slow feeding is to try to ensure that horses have constant access to forage. This will allow them to perform their innate foraging behaviour, in turn reducing stress and potentially helping to prevent the development of undesirable behaviours, while promoting gut health. Trickle feeding forage promotes an alkaline gut and stimulates peristalsis thus allowing the gut to work as it would in the wild. 

     

    To overcome the difficulty of ‘speed-eating’ of forage, the wastage associated with feeding off the floor and long periods of inactivity, Haygain and The Royal Agricultural University collaborated to develop a revolutionary forage feeder for horses; The Forager. The Forager is a sophisticated development of an original idea conceived at Nottingham Trent University and slows down the intake of forage without the horse feeding at an unnatural angle.

     

    The forager has an inter-changeable regulator system positioned between the horse and their hay or haylage, so they have to work at pulling the forage through the varying sized holes of the regulator grid. Each mouthful takes longer and is smaller than when the horse eats freely from the ground. This means their forage lasts longer. The key to this is that their feed intake is limited by speed, not quantity, and the food is available for longer periods.

     

     

     

    The benefits of the Haygain Forager

    The Forager from Haygain is the natural way to slow the pace a horse eats. The design of the Forager and its’ positioning on the stable floor actually mimics the natural grazing position, with the head held low, while offering the benefits of tidiness and cleanliness to the owner. The head position of the horse when grazing is of utmost importance. When the horse is grazing from ground level, drainage of the respiratory tract is supported ensuring no harmful particles are left present in the horses system.

     

    This natural means of consumption offers many benefits to the horse, including:

     

     

    • Imitates grazing behaviour and slows the pace of eating so there is always forage in the stomach, creating a protective mat to prevent stomach acid splashing and causing gastric ulcers.

    • The Forager's Regulator grid ensures smaller bites of forage and increased amounts of chewing, which helps maintain a flow of saliva, acting as a natural buffer to stomach acid

    • Reduces the risk of colic and aids in the prevention of gastric ulcers, obesity and laminitis

    • Stops cross contamination of forage and bedding, saving you time and money

    • Reduces stable boredom and the potential to develop related stable vices

    • Easy to clean and pack flat for travel.

     

    The Forager from Haygain is available at just £249 or pay over 6 monthly instalments. The Forager comes with free delivery, a 30 day returns policy and a one year warranty. It is suitable for most types of long stem hay and haylage and supports freshly steamed forage.

     

    For more information please visit https://haygain.co.uk/products/haygain-forager

     

     

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