We get a lot of questions about feeding time. A concern a lot of people have about group living is that their horse will not be able to eat their food without someone running them off and stealing it. Or their concern may be the opposite, that they have an easy keeper that doesn't need to be eating other horses' food.
For us we've found that the simple solution is the feedbag. Each horse has their own feedbag labeled with their name. Using feedbags completely solves the problem of horses stealing food from each other simply because they cannot. It also means any horses getting supplements and/or medications are sure to get it and not another horse. The horses can eat at their own speed, be it fast or slow, and we know whether or not they ate everything. They are also wonderful for the messy feeders that dribble food everywhere. They just dribble it right back in the feedbag and eliminate the waste. All in all we find it to be an ideal system. This system allows us to feed each horse different amounts and types of feed according to the individual's needs. We don't even use feedbuckets for horses in stalls anymore, they are also fed with a feedbag.
A lot of people don't like feedbags. The big drawback for most people is that you do need to stand with the horses while they are eating. Not to keep them from picking on each other but because they leave when they are done. So you need to be ready to remove the feedbag when they are finished eating, otherwise you will be chasing horses all over the pasture to remove their feedbags. This is not a problem for us as we use feeding times as an opportunity to check the horses over.
Johnny and Rampal eating
We do go to the trouble of soaking feed for all the horses. We have a few residents that have arrived at our farm with a significant history of choking and it seems to work out that we always have one horse like this in each pasture. Some of the chronic chokers are young and tend to bolt their feed, others are older and have bad teeth. Regardless of the cause chronic chokers really should eat well soaked feed. This will not prevent a horse from choking, I've watched two different horses manage to choke on well soaked, mushy feed. But it does usually keep a choke from becoming severe. A lot of barns don't want to soak feed because it is a pain and adds extra time to the process, however we soak feed for everyone.
soaking feed with supplements ready to add afterwards
We scoop the feed for each horse into their feedbag with their name on it. The feedbags have a solid bottom and mesh sides. Then we put the feedbags full of feed in a little water trough to soak the feed. After the feed is mushy we take the bags out, let the water drain out the mesh sides, and then add supplements and medications for the horses that are getting them. Then the feed is ready to go. It really isn't that hard, it just takes some extra time.
feed soaked, supplements added, ready to feed
We have a few horses that do a partial stall board arrangement. These horses come into stalls for a few hours each day to eat a big hay cube mash. A couple of horses eat a daily mash year round while others only need to do this for 4 months in the winter when the grass isn't good. It usually takes a week or two for the "seasonal" mash eaters to adjust to being stalled for a few hours each day and there is a lot of drama as they spin around in their stall and scream for their friends. Then they finally realize that they don't stay in that long, they get to eat a yummy mash and things quiet down and they eat happily. We know when they are finished because the calling starts.
Snappy eating a hay cube mash
After the horses have eaten the feedbags are rinsed out and hung up, ready for the next meal. For us we find this approach to be a very efficient system for feeding horses in groups and it allows us to feed a customized feeding program for each horse.
Through the years we have never had a horse that had difficulty eating from a feedbag. A few need a meal or two to figure out to put their head down and eat, but it only takes a meal or two for them to figure it out. Most just put their head down and start eating the first time we feed them with a feedbag.
We love our feedbags and have found a system that works well for us and the horses at feeding time.
feedbags rinsed out
hung up and ready for the next meal
Elfin and Tony
Leo, Levendi and Chance
Sam and Chili grooming
O'Reilly and Lucky
Stormy, Clayton and Largo
Tony and Apollo grooming
O'Reilly and Thor
Sebastian and Renny chatting about something