Sunny & Stella Get a Round Bale Feeder

Since Sunny and Stella moved to our backyard, we’ve noticed them wasting a vast amount of hay. They love to stick their noses way into the middle of the round bale, pull the hay out, and then let it drop to the ground. Then they poop on it.

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After researching dozens of different types of hay feeders, including everything from slow-feed nets to Bale Buddys, my handy husband decided he would just go ahead and build one himself. I, for one, am glad he did.

Here’s how he did it:

Four six-foot long pressure treated 4X4s are beveled on each end to create skids.

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At each end, and two feet on center along one skid, notches are cut to half the thickness of the 4X4 and the width of a 4X4 to receive the vertical posts.

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The bottom of the vertical posts, which are not pressure treated, are notched to fit into the pressure treated 4X4 skid.

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The 32″ long vertical posts are set into the skid that forms the back wall of the feeder.

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Holes are drilled and 4″ galvanized carriage bolts are inserted through the skid and the post.

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The nut and washer are on the inside of the feeder beneath the floor so there is no chance a horse could scratch its nose on it!

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The remaining three skids are notched only on the ends, to receive the vertical posts.

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1X8 rough pine boards are nailed to the posts of the back wall with 3 1/2 inch galvanized nails. We wanted the space between the boards a little narrower than you typically see on hay feeders, so there would be no chance of my accident-prone horse somehow getting a hoof through.

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The floor is assembled with two full-length 1X8 boards on the sides, and eight 25″ boards on the back and the front portions of the floor. This leaves an almost two-foot wide gap in the middle of the floor for the round bale to settle into, so it centers itself in the feeder.

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Up to this point, all construction was done indoors, with boards cut to measure, but not yet assembled, except for the back wall. At this point, we moved the entire project out to Sunny & Stella’s paddock. Stella was extremely interested in the construction project, to the point that we had to pause until the hay became of even more interest. Now work could resume.

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Once all the pieces were assembled, the gate (which was pre-built in our basement) was attached using 8″ galvanized tee hinges. A 6″ barrel bolt secures the gate.

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After watching Sunny almost poke her eye out on the corner of the post (did I mention she’s accident-prone?), we decided to bevel the posts for safety.

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This would have been easier to do with a compound mitre saw in the basement before the boards were added to the posts, rather than a hand-held reciprocating saw out in the middle of the paddock, but we think they turned out just fine.

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The finished product, with a (partially eaten) round bale rolled in place.

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Sunny and Stella approve.

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Building my Perfect Barn, Part 3: Feeding, Haying & Watering Systems

As the owner of a hard-keeper (and feed tub pooper-in-er), you can rest assured that what I will not be using for feed tubs are those corner feeders that either screw into or clip onto the wall; main reason being that I like to be able to scrub out feed tubs every day, and the more steadfastly they are attached to the wall, the more difficult this is to do. Also, I firmly believe horses should eat head-down, a much more natural feeding position than chest level. A nice, sturdy rubber feed tub (you know, the old fashioned kind) is hard to beat. They’re tough, you can give them a good scrubbing every day, and if a horse steps on it, it will collapse under him, making it much safer than a plastic type.

Image found at http://www.bigdweb.com

In keeping with my theory that ground-level feeding is more natural for horses than chest-level, I also plan to go sans-haynet and feed all hay from the ground. Well, sort of. Because I believe that horses should graze all day, but because I won’t be home to hand out several feedings of hay in the winter days (only to watch it blow around the paddocks), and because I don’t like to see horses stand ’round gorging themselves with their heads stuck in a round bale all day, I have two words to describe my perfect prospective haying system: Slow Feeders.

Schneiders Slow Feeder Saver; image found at blog.sstack.com

With slow feeders, I can ensure that my horses have enough hay to last them the day while keeping them from hoovering up way more hay than they really need. A slow feeder will also solve one of the biggest issues I have with round bales in paddocks, which is the sheer wastage of hay. I don’t know about you, but whenever my horses have been fed using round bales, they ate about a third of them, laid down on another third, and pooped on the final third. That’s a little too much hay ending up in the manure pile for my liking.

Of course, I’m lucky enough to have a very handy husband, and I’ve already got him thinking of ways to make these himself. I’m sure he’ll come up with something workable and durable that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Image found at freedomhorseslive.webs.com

I’m so interested in the idea of slow feeders, I’m even looking into ways of using them, as unobtrusively as possible, indoors in the stalls (because, as we know, rather than run-ins, the horses’ stalls will do double duty as shelters from rain, sleet, heat and bugs while I’m at work, and I’d rather not have them strew hay all about the stalls if I can help it). If anyone has a non-haybag-type of slow feeder usable in stalls, I’d love to hear about it!

Image found at piasparade@blogspot.com

When it comes to watering, I’m a traditional kind of girl. I’ve just never liked automatic watering systems. I know, I know. They’re not the same old waterers that broke and flooded and froze in the winter and could never give you an accurate measurement of just how much your horse was drinking… but I still don’t like ’em. It’ll be good old fashioned water buckets for my barn, thank you very much. Two buckets per stall, and heated ones in the winter (after suffering through an 8 hour day in the corporate world, the last thing I want to have to deal with when I do finally get to my little barn haven is a frozen water bucket)!

As for watering during turnout, in the winter with the horses staying pretty close to their stalls in their cozy little winter paddocks, they can just drink from the heated buckets inside. I know keeping the buckets warm all day and night will cost me a little extra in electricity bills, but it’ll sure cut down on vet bills by preventing colic caused by horses not wanting to drink cold water. Also, with the electrical cord coming out from under the bucket through a small hole in the wall, and plugged into a very safe outlet like this, I will not be concerned about curious horses getting into trouble with the heated buckets.

Photo credit: Pam Levy
Photo credit: Pam Levy

As for watering in the outer paddocks during the warmer months, I don’t want the horses to have to come all the way back to their stalls to get a drink of water. Again, I’ll keep it traditional with the good-old-fashioned rubber tub. They’re lightweight, so they can be easily dumped for daily cleaning.

Image found at http://www.kitncaboodle.com.au

Don’t forget to come back for my next post, when I’ll be talking about bedding and stall care!

Crazy Horse (or, The Devastating Effects of Magnesium Deficiency)

Six years ago I became the owner, through a wonderful twist of serendipity, of a beautiful paint horse named Sunny. She was actually named “Sonny” then, but of course that was a boy’s name, so the “o” became a “u” the day Sunny became mine.

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According to the former owners, Sunny had always been problematic. A handful. One of those horses that never really settled. Had plenty of go, not so much whoa. You know the sort. “No problem”, I thought. “I’ve never met a forward horse I didn’t like”.

Well, it turns out she’s more than just a little forward. Over the next five and a half years, she struggled with the following symptoms:

* she was on “high alert” all. the. time

* very tense, extremely hard (and over-developed) muscles

* extreme sensitivity to sound and touch

* very painful heats

* becomes more tense as a ride goes on, instead of relaxing

* once unsettled, she cannot regain her composure, and a meltdown almost always ensues

* intermittent and unexplained lameness

* hard keeper

* zero tolerance for change (one of her worst meltdowns ever occurred the day I tried riding her in a rubber snaffle instead of her regular snaffle; another, the first day I rode her in a new bridle).

After trying everything from grain changes to barn changes to changes in exercise, tack and shoeing, trying more work, less work, more playtime, more downtime, and anything else I could think of, nothing had improved. In fact, she seemed to be getting worse. Worse to the point of being dangerous. Worse to the point that I didn’t even want to ride this horse whom I had loved since the very moment I had laid eyes on her. I was devastated.

Then one day, after researching until my eyes were blurry, I started to notice a trend in the results I was getting when I punched her symptoms into good old Google. The term “magnesium deficiency” kept popping up, with all of the usual testimonials that sounded too good to be true. But I was so desperate that I was willing to try it.

The Science Of It All:

I am neither a vet nor an equine nutritionist. I’ve just done an awful lot of research on the topic, and the gist of it is that there are actual scientific reasons for the particular set of behaviours that are demonstrated by horses deficient in magnesium. This particular passage (from www.pleasurehorse.com/latest-news/magnesium-the-mineral-superhero) really hit home for me:

Magnesium deficiency has varying effects on the horse population. Some horses do not suffer any signs while others are almost un-rideable due to their apparent wariness and hyperactivity. Adding magnesium to their diet may have a dramatic calming effect. To understand why magnesium affects the horse in a calming manner, it is important to know what is happening in your horse’s body on a cellular level when there is a magnesium shortfall.

Calcium and magnesium work closely with each other, calcium requiring magnesium for balance. Calcium is in charge of contracting the muscle and magnesium looks after the relaxation or release of the muscle much like a gas pedal and a clutch work together. When a muscle cell is triggered, the cell membrane opens, letting calcium in and raising the calcium level in the cell setting off a reaction and the muscle contracts. When the contraction is done, the magnesium inside the cell helps to push the calcium back out of the cell releasing the contraction. This happens very rapidly.When there is not enough magnesium in the cell, calcium can leak back in causing a stimulatory effect and the muscle cannot completely relax. This can put the body into a continually stressed state. Low magnesium makes nerve endings hypersensitive thus exacerbating pain and noise.

Of course, that passage does come from the website of a company trying to sell me a magnesium supplement. But Dr. Eleanor Kellon, DVM, isn’t trying to sell me anything, and here’s what she says (from http://suite101.com/article/magnesium-for-horses-a375690)

Magnesium plays an important role in the function of the nervous system, and an excess or deficiency of the mineral can affect the behavior of the horse. Dr. Eleanor Kellon V.M.D. has performed field trials using supplemental magnesium for horses who displayed nervous behavior. She reported that while results varied depending on the specific problem displayed by the horse, magnesium had a noticeable effect on horses with anxiety, spookiness, and overreaction to sound or touch. She also noted that “aggressive horses were less easily provoked” when fed supplemental magnesium. Magnesium is a safe supplement, carrying no long-term side effects for the horse. It does not ‘drug’ the horse or change its blood chemistry at all.

I urge you to do your own research. Personally, articles like these and others were enough to at least convince me that a magnesium supplement might be worth a try.

Sunny started taking her magnesium supplement on April 16, when my rides had become so awful that most days I was just doing in-hand work in the indoor arena, and only when no other horses were present.

By April 25, I was able to walk her in hand with other horses in the ring. On April 28 we had our first successful outdoor ride of the spring. On May 11, I rode her in a lesson in the outdoor ring and, despite horses hacking by, a truck and trailer trundling up the road, and a rather close encounter of the pheasant-in-the-bushes kind, she was well-behaved almost to the point of placid, and we managed, for the first time in months, to get some real work done.

She has gotten consistently better since then. Her super-tense muscles have started to relax, and she is able to track up (at least at the walk) for the first time in… well… ever. She can handle previously unsettling situations with barely the blink of an eye, and she has come to love being groomed and fussed over like nobody’s business.

We’re by no means there. We have a long road ahead of us, and with her 21st birthday looming in just a couple of weeks, time is unfortunately not on our side. But we’re getting a little better every day, and that’s all I can ask of this wonderful horse who has probably spent the better part of her life fighting her inner demons.

The Eye of the Master Makes the Horse Fat

Feeding is an often-misunderstood art. Knowledge, patience and an eye for small changes are all required in order to keep your horse at his ideal weight.

What Horses Live On

Water

Water is an essential part of every cell in your horse’s body. Up to 12 gallons a day or more is required for vital functions. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times, and in winter, cold water may need to have the chill taken off to encourage your horse to drink more.

Carbohydrates

Carbs come mainly in the form of grains, and provide energy. Plant fibre (from grass, hay and other roughages) is required for digestion.

Proteins

Found in such sources as oilseed meals, alfalfa and (to a certain extent) some grains, proteins are essential for growth, repair and maintenance of the body.

Fat

Fatty acids, such as those found in corn oil, wheat germ oil and the like produce extra energy, will help put weight on a poor doer, and, in small amounts, aid digestion (especially of vitamins).

Vitamins

Vitamins come from good hay, grain, sunlight and supplements, and aid all bodily functions.

Minerals

Found in good hay, grain, salt and supplements, minerals build and maintain bone and tissue, and trigger natural bodily functions.

Determining How Much to Feed Your Horse

Before you can figure out how much to feed your horse, you need to know three things:

1. How much your horse weighs;

2. How much each of your feeds weighs;

3. What condition your horse is in (thin, soft, hard, etc).

Using a set of kitchen scales and your scoop (many prefer a coffee can or similar container to a feed scoop because you can easily mark it), determine how much a pound of each type of grain you feed is (you may find that a pound of sweet feed takes up more of the can than, say, a pound of barley).

To determine the weight of your hay, put an average-sized flake in a plastic bag. Weigh yourself on a digital bathroom scale, then weigh yourself holding the hay, and figure out the difference. If you don’t have a set of digital scales, most feed stores will weigh your hay for you. Most types of hay weigh between three to five pounds per flake.

You can weigh your horse using a weight tape, which isn’t an entirely accurate system, but will give you a good starting point. As a general rule of thumb, horses require 2 to 3 pounds of total food (grain and hay) per 100 lbs of body weight per day.  Thin horses or hard keepers may need substantially more, and fat horses, easy keepers or ponies may require a little less.

Always keep in mind that horses need to be fed according to work done, size, age, type and temperament. Ponies tend to make better use of their forage, and therefore require less. Many ponies, in fact, do very well on good quality hay alone.

Feeding Scales

The harder a horse works, the more of his daily ration will need to be supplemented with grain. The average horse in good condition requires roughly 90% of his daily ration in roughage (hay) and 10% in concentrates (grain), and a good rule of thumb is to supplement the hay ration with grain at a rate of about 10% for each step up in activity level. So a horse in light work would get about 80% of the ration in roughage and about 20% in grain. A horse in medium work would go to a 70% roughage, 30% concentrates, and, in hard work, about a 60%/40% split. A horse’s ration should never go below 50% roughage.

Doing the Math

In general, a horse in good condition requires 2.5 lbs of total food (hay and grain) for every 100 lbs of body weight (so a 1,000 lb horse needs about 25 lbs of food per day. If that horse is in light work, he requires about 20 lbs of hay (or, between 4 and 6 flakes per day), and about 5 lbs of grain (spread over two or three small meals).

Fat horses or very easy keepers will often require less than this. Conversely, thin horses or hard keepers will require more. Remember, though, that increasing the grain or hay for a hard keeper may not be the answer. Changing the type of grain being fed might work better. A thin horse being fed a grain very high in concentrates, like corn, may just build extra energy, and actually lose weight trying to work that energy off.

Common Types of Grain

Oats

Oats are less concentrated than most grains, and are therefore quite safe for most horses. They can be fed whole, crushed, crimped or rolled. Some say whole oats shouldn’t be fed because the husk is difficult to penetrate, causing the oats to move too quickly through the digestive system to do the horse any good. Others feel this is an old wives tale. The truth is more likely that no two horses are alike, and what works well for one doesn’t necessarily work well for another.

Corn

Corn is the most concentrated (ie contains the most energy per pound) of all the grains. In most cases, it is not safe to feed to ponies, and should most certainly not be fed to hot horses. Corn can be fed whole, cracked, rolled or flaked.

Barley

With more energy than oats but less than corn, barley is a good compromise. It should be fed rolled, flaked or boiled, otherwise the husk is too hard to digest. Boiled barley is nice in a bran mash and, can often help put weight on a thin horse.

Bran

Bran is the by-product of the milling process of wheat. High in phosphorous, it upsets the calcium:phosphorous ratio, leading to bone problems if fed too often. Low in nutrients and easily digested, bran is best fed occasionally as a warm mash for a cold or tired horse.

Beet Pulp

A by-product of the production of sugar beets, beet pulp is mainly roughage, and is a good substitute for hay in horses with allergies. It is more digestible than hay and bulkier than grain. Beet pulp is a good way to add weight without excess energy. It should always be fed soaked as it swells when mixed with fluids (such as saliva and other digestive juices).

Sweet Feed

This is a mixture of grains, normally with added molasses to cut down on dust and make the feed a little tastier. Due to the content of corn and molasses, it is not always a good choice for ponies or hot horses.

Pellets

There are many types of processed “pelleted” feeds on the market these days, and many give a horse all (or most) of what he requires. Beware, though, that not all pelleted grains are alike. Be sure to choose a type that is suitable for your horse’s needs. Pellets are convenient because they eliminate the need for mixing grains, but they are not overly palatable, and horses may tire of them quickly. Pellets are probably the safest grain for ponies and hot horses, though, as they do not contain high amounts of sugar and corn like sweet feed does.

Whatever you choose to feed your horse, be sure to follow these well-established rules of good feeding:

1. Feed little and often;

2. Feel plenty of roughage;

3. Feed according to work done;

4. Keep to the same feeding hours daily;

5. Make all changes in amount and type of feed gradually;

6. Feed something succulent each day;

7. Do not feed immediately before or after hard work;

8. Feed clean, top quality grain and hay only;

9. Make fresh water available at all times (except for a hot, sweaty horse, which must be allowed to cool down before drinking a large amount of water).

If you feed the correct amount and type of grain and hay and follow the time-honoured rules of feeding above, your horse should thrive (and if he does not, please enlist the help of your vet, as there may be more at play than grain and hay).