Lensman and Gunsmoke tested a feeder that we have since adopted farm wide – a High Country Plastics Slow Feeder. I put it in the hotel stall and cycled them through so I could observe their behavior.
Once again, the two horses showed their unique personalities.
The feeder is a large plastic box with a slot and an upper lip, with a rounded grate that lies on the hay to slow access to the material. It’s fairly large, but not bad in the corner of a 12×12 stall. Horses feed by pulling hay from the large holes in the grate. I was interested to see how they would react to food in a container, whether the container would be proof against their strength, whether it would be frustrating to get hay so slowly, and whether it might pose any danger inside a stall.
Gunsmoke did not seem worried by it at all, and he immediately set to work eating. I watched both hidden and and in the open and did not see frustration or concern. He moved the box once, and then pretty much left it alone. I watched him for ten minutes and he seemed to be fine with it. Finally, I moved him back to his regular stall and brought Lensman in to see how he reacted.
Lensman was initially concerned and snorked once, pulling back briefly. Then he investigated. He found it contained hay, and like Gunsmoke set about eating. However, his behavior was quite different from Gunsmoke’s. He moved the box several times. It seemed as if he wanted to put it near the door, where he usually eats his hay. After he has settled for a while, he moved it a couple of times again, inspecting the ground where it had been, as if looking for the denji that usually lives under a pile of hay. Then he ate some more and did it again.
When he wanted to roll, the box being away from the wall seemed to impede his decision-making process. I entered and pushed the box back against the wall and he decided that was better, so he turned himself into a horsey cutlet, covered in shavings.
The most surprising thing was that he did not want to leave the stall when his ten minutes were up. In fact, he avoided me. He turned away and when I came to him, he actually walked away into the corner. This was nearly unprecedented behavior, and I could only interpret it in terms of what had changed – the feeder. Whether he preferred it because it was more like grazing (with pulling and tearing) or because it meant the hay did not smell like the floor (Sue’s hypothesis), he did not want to leave it and was adamant. In any event, I decided to allow him to stay, and I set up one of the Ayrstone cameras I am experimenting with so I could watch him.
He ate longer than Gunsmoke, who had “free hay”, though Gunsmoke was not out of hay when I returned two hours later. He ate less, I think, but was still successful in pulling hay through the grate up until when I returned him to his stall at 11 – this time he let me take him out, but when I gave him hay, he was not ravenous.
Weeks later, we now have many things we like about the feeders. There is almost no waste. The boys eat all night and have hay in the morning. We use them outside and now we can move the boxes in and out with a hand truck and the horses neither waste hay into the mud, nor do they require a “lunch feeding” – they just eat.
Lensman and Gunsmoke handled the feeders in their stalls very differently. Lensman eventually decided to Feng Shui his stall by moving his feeder. At first, we though he just didn’t want to eat at the front of the stall. It looked like he wanted to eat at the side – we accommodated this and rearranged the stall, but it didn’t work – he just moved the feeder further. Always clockwise. Sometimes almost three quarters of a circle. Sue theorized he was looking for the dust under the hay. I thought he was just doing the feeder equivalent of hay flinging.
Gunsmoke, on the other hand, ever phlegmatic, simply ate from his feeder. Didn’t try to move it. Sometimes preferred to eat from one side more than the other, sloping the grate. Didn’t bang it or disrupt it.
Outside, they treat the feeders like hay piles. We keep them twenty or so feet apart, and Gunsmoke frequently decides that the hay Lensman is eating must be better, or maybe just feels an urge to display dominance – in any event, the “changing of the boxes” is a frequent early turnout activity, which poor Lensman puts up with, stolidly moving from his box to the just-vacated Gunsmoke box, and then back again, when Gunsmoke takes it into his head to return. Repeat. Ditto. For hours. Somewhere around eleven in the morning, Gunsmoke goes somewhere to observe the kingdom and doze, and then Lensman eats wherever he wants until he, too, is satiated and needs to go find a place in the paddock to snooze.
We eventually decided to strap Lensman’s stall feeder to the wall – it was too much of a mess to deal with the giant path he made with it through his shavings, intersecting poo and pee spots. He took this in stride and didn’t seem frustrated (he stamps his little hooves when he is frustrated). Maybe it actually made things easier for him, since he never seemed to think through whether the box was left somewhere that might make it harder to lie down.
So they eat all day, and eat all night, and their hay is fresh. That makes them happy, so we’re happy too.