Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Cure for Busy Beavers

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a board down in Kate's paddock. Thinking she and Maddie or Beth had gotten silly over the fence, I went to retrieve it.
What I found was not a knocked loose rail, but this piece of lumber-fodder:
Upon closer inspection, I found several more devoured boards.
I didn't do it, Mom!(And I don't think she did--the gouges all seemed to be from the opposite side of the fence.)I have never had trouble with the girls chewing wood in the past.
I thought about what was different, that this would come on in a week's time. (We currently feed in the dark morning and night, but I'm outside every weekend, and I hadn't noticed previously.)
I figured it could be one of three things:
Something missing in their diet (either fiber or some mineral).

Misty has not attacked any of her fence, but instead decided the one straw bale that I kept in her stall (reserved when I switched to boys to the east paddock and pellet bedding) was fair game.
So, my project two weekends ago was to replace the worst-gnawed boards.
Beth helped.
Then, I did four things:
I liberally soaped the top edges of all the paddock fences.
I added some lower quality grass hay to their regular ration of timothy hay for additional fiber.
I added Purina's 12:12 mineral supplement to their daily ration. The last time I talked to the local Purina representative, he said the 12:12 wasn't necessary, since I was feeding their "Enrich" vitamin mineral supplement; but it seems odd that the first winter I didn't include the 12:12 was the first winter I had fence boards chewed on.

Lastly, I finished the project I started last fall of creating feeders along the south wall of the barn. dp at Food for Founder has gone through a series of prototypes for slow feeders (search her blog using the word "feeder")--designed to give a slow-motion but continuous supply of hay, to mimic more natural grazing patterns, thereby relieving boredom and not stressing their digestive system in the way that twice daily bulky feedings do.

Originally I was going to construct the feeders outside the main aisle of the barn, and dug two post holes in three locations to serve the three paddocks. This would have required not only the feed grid of 4" by 4" galvanized steel, but sides, a slanted bottom, and a small roof to keep out both rain and horses.

But in an "AHA!" moment a couple of weeks ago, I realized that if I pulled a few of the tongue and groove boards from the bottom of the barn's exterior walls, I could mount the grid on the inside, slant a less expensive sheet of OSB (rather than plywood) against some hay bales (instead of permanent posts) and not have to weather- and horse-proof the feeders.

I got Kate's small 6 foot feeding station in last weekend, and she figured out pretty quickly how to use it. She has never quite cleaned it out, but is eating slightly less hay than previously.
I have a rubber mat on the ground in front of the grid, and there is very little waste, as Kate cleans up her droppings regularly, as they are easier to access than the hay behind the grid.
(By the way, Funder, please note that Kate is, indeed, one dirty pony!)
The 4" by 4" openings are a bit larger than recommended, but I'm tracking her intake and haven't noticed that Kate is eating too much too fast at this point.
So this weekend's project was for Maddie and Beth's paddock. This will be a wider grid, about 11 feet, between the barn posts, because it will serve two.
The site from inside the barn, immediately adjacent to the hay stack (Kate's is at the far end of the barn, and bales of hay need to be moved down for her each week).
Unscrewing the boards.
Boards out.
Tacking up the grid.

Leaning the 4'X8' OSB against hay bales stacked two high. It is necessary to have enough of an angle that the hay will slide down continuously against the grid, otherwise the horses can't get to it with their lips. If it doesn't slide, I may have to line the OSB with a cheap poly tarp.
Throw down some hay.
Feeder full. Can the girls figure it out?
Beth was the first one to come over, but Al had gone inside with the camera.
A fringe benefit of this system is that it meters out the hay slowly enough that we may be able to put two meals worth in the feeder at a time, and, during Al's early morning "quick feed," a check to make sure the hay is still shifting against the grid properly may be all that is needed.

At first, I think Beth and Maddie thought they were putting one past me, sneaking into a forbidden snack shack. (Again, Funder, notice the mud-packed horsies.)By evening, they were wondering why I hadn't put their dinner in their tire.Beth nose.
Maddie nose.
We'll see how much they have eaten in the morning.


  1. Cool! Your feeders look great and simple...I'm keen to hear how you and the crew like them as time goes by. I will never feed any other way.

  2. That's very clever!

    I'm glad to see your horses are filthy too. What a relief. No one should have blinding-white paints in winter! It's unnatural!

  3. I love the idea of the feeders, seem so easy and better for them as well.

    Funder you make me laugh, I have 3 paints and they are dirty summer and winter!

  4. Tehehe, yes Funder is funny!
    Wow, that looks to be just awesome for the slow-feed! Keeping that handy will surely help with the hunger/boredom..and the 12/12 supp!

    To answer the shadow roll, so far it seems to have "created" some new shadows!It sure looks comfy though!
    LOVE your slideshow!!!

  5. Yes , the feeders are working very well. If I remember my terminology from my high school mathematician days, the solution is "elegant" --meaning simple and easy to implement.
    Beth and Maddie haven't picked up on the system quite as quickly as Kate (who, of course, would starve if she didn't eat RIGHT NOW!), but they are getting there. The north paddocks don't have any wall accessible from the inside (without going through stalls) so I'm going to have to figure out something more like dp's "box" method.

    We're having "mud season" early this year, though I won't yet buy into the west-siders' contention that spring is here. Amazingly, Crystal, once they shed out to their slick summer coats, my herd stay surprisingly clean--except Maddie, who, of course, will find the one pile of green, slimy poop in a two-acre pasture to lie down on!

  6. What a great idea. I like how you changed the concept to fit your barn and feeding techniques, too.
    I didn't like how Baby Doll would scarf down her hay within 15-20 minutes and then stand around all day bored until dinner, so I did some research and decided I wanted to use a hay net. But all the store-bought haynets weren't big enough for what I had in mind: slow-feeding with 24/7 access. Allowing a horse to graze all day, just the way nature intended.
    So I assembled a hay net out of a hockey net. I actually made two of them and they can each hold a bale of hay. Here is the link to what I did, wih video of Baby Doll using the nets, too.

    This is where I discovered all the great ideas and plans for slow-feeders:

    Good for you giving your horses access to their hay so it stay cleaner and last longer. :)


  7. Lisa,
    I KNEW! I had seen the concept on someone else's blog (beside dp). And I had looked at the Paddock Paradise site as well, probably in a link from LOR! dp's links to a Swedish site, on Food for Founder, were no longer any good, so thanks for providing that connection here! I did benefit (and so are the girls, now) from info garnered from Laughing Orca Ranch.

  8. What really strikes me about this post is how handy you are, EvenSong. I loved the photos showing your concentration and confidence as you constructed the perfect feeder, and especially enjoyed the one of you on top of the hay bales. I'm so glad all of your hard work paid off!

  9. Time for an update yet?

    What did you use for the wire grid? My wire has been demolished by the goats, I guess - I am dithering between tying a net out of hay strings or ugh, going to Walmart to look for a hockey net or buying a hog panel and cutting it to size.

  10. The feeders got through the winter just fine, and saved quite a bit of hay! (and fences, too, I'm sure). The barn grid is made out of panels similar to cattle panels, except that the squares are uniform instead of staggered.
    The north paddock now has a 4'X8' plywood panel leaning towards the regular 2"X4" horse safe fence. This is considerably harder for them to eat through, but heaven knows, Kate manages--It's probably good for her to have to work so hard at it.
    The last paddock houses old RT--he gets his hay free choice, and gums the hell out of it!

  11. This is FABULOUS. I've gotta think about this, now, and see how I can use it.

    (Just forwarded the link to Jim, will see what he can do with it).

  12. Really love this! Boarding, so can't rip up the barn, but there are so many helpful ideas I can't wait to commiserate with Bella on creating a slow feeder for the boys, so they have free choice in addition to regular feeding. It's winter, their weights are good, but they are both harder keepers. When real winter hits, we're worried they'll start dropping pounds.