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Facts about Slow Feeding
Mustangs on natural slow feeding in the Nevada desert.
Scientific studies tell us that a very large proportion of our domestic horses suffer from stomach ulcers. Some studies have shown over 90% among competing horses. Often this is because our feeding regimes leave them without food for too many hours per day.
We know that, in the wild, horses only sleep for about 4 hours per day and spend most of the remainder searching for food,which may be sparse in their natural habitat.
Most domestic horses’ diets are too high in sugars and lacking in fiber which is fed too infrequently resulting in long periods without food. More and more studies indicate that 4 hours without food might be the ideal maximum. Other studies indicate that the situation becomes critical after 2 hours as that is when cribbing horses start to crib. 2 hours is also the time taken for food to pass through the small intestine leaving it empty and vulnerable to burning digestive juices.
With slow feeding, not only does the hay last for longer, but more importantly the horse takes smaller mouthfuls, each of which he chews for longer and therefore feels replete before he finishes everything that is in front of him. Nibbling instead of gobbling makes him chew every fiber much more rigorously and that is what makes him feel satisfied.
SlowFeeding lets your horse eat for longer without eating more.
Experience has shown that when the horse becomes accustomed to a continuous supply of hay he will stop overeating and take a break from eating when he has had enough. For this to happen the supply of hay must be absolutely seamless.
Check this article by Juliet Getty Ph.D.
A horse feels full and satisfied when he has chewed a certain number of times during a certain length of time, not necessarily when his stomach is full.
It might be easier to understand if we think of the horse feeling content when the muscles used for chewing become tired. If this happens too quickly, his recovery time will be brief and he will feel hungry again too soon and over eat. This may happen if he can fill his mouth too easily.
If, on the other hand, he takes in food too slowly, (which might happen with a SMHN with a mesh size below 3cm) he might never chew enough to feel content and therefore eat continuously without leaving himself any recreational time.
Let me make up an example:
If we guess that the horse might need to chew 10 000 times to eat 2kg of hay over a 3 hour time period to feel content and that it then takes 30 minutes for the chewing muscle to recover (i.e. for him to be hungry again). This would give him a cycle time of 3,5 hours which will make it possible for him to eat 5 of these portions (10kg) in 17,5 hours and do other things during 6,5 hours.
If, instead, he eats that same 2kg of feed and chews that same 10.000 of times in two hours instead of three, he will have a cycle time of 2,5 hours and might eat 7 (14kg) instead of 5 (10kg) portions in the same 17,5 hours.
It is worth mentioning that it is sugar (simple carbohydrates) that makes both horses and humans fat. To be more precise, it is the excess sugar that makes us fat. Sugar is supposed to be fuel for the muscles but if it is not all consumed by the muscles, the surplus will be stored as body fat. Fat is very sparse in the horse’s natural diet but the sugar content in grass that grows in cold climates can be twice as high as in grass that grows in warm climates. Cool climate grasses usually contains approximately 13% sugar which means the a daily ration of 16kg=35lbs of hay contains 2 kg=4.5lbs of pure sugar.
Let’s say that the horse receives 2kg (4.5 lbs) of hay at 7am, fed directly onto (a hopefully clean spot on) the floor. As it is very easy for him to refill his mouth, he is unlikely to chew each mouthful as thoroughly as he should and will therefore eat everything in front of him without feeling replete.
In 2 hours the stomach will be more or less empty and vulnerable to the constant supply of burning digestive juices which irritate the lining, creating discomfort which can lead to stable vices such as cribbing.
Stomach ulcers are a very common cause of colic.
The horse will now be without food until mid day when his next hay feed arrives. The cycle is repeated, with yet another spell with an empty stomach and the same undesirable consequences.
If, alternatively, he does not manage to chew 10 000 times during the 3 hour period because it is too hard to get the hay out of the net, he will never feel content, and will be in constant search of more food. This may also make him frustrated and tense even though he may have consumed sufficient calories.
If the owner rides straight after work, at say 5pm, there will not be sufficient time for the horse to eat before work and he will therefore work on a stomach that is devoid of food, and the upper portion of the stomach will be unprotected from the hydro-chloride acid which may cause lesions.
The production of HCl, lactic acid and bile (all burning liquids) can be increased and decreased but not stopped. The change in rate of production will however take hours.
Well chewed food passing through the stomach carries some of the HCl into the small intestine, so with continuous grazing the level of HCl in the stomach would be kept constant. Both feed and saliva will also dilute and buffer the acid making it less harmfull.
Scientific studies have found stomach ulcers in up to 93% of competing horses.
After riding, the owner might leave the horse at about 7.30pm with another pile of hay on the floor, maybe 4kg (8 lbs) which will last for almost 4 hours.
Since the stomach is now burning from being empty too long and irritated by the waves of pure HCl, the horse may eat even faster to get some kind of relief and ensure that no one else steals his food. At this stage he will be very protective of his feed and quite grumpy if disturbed.
This time he will probably chew enough times but most likely too quickly and inefficiently to keep him satisfied for long.
If he finishes his feed by midnight, he will still have 7 hrs without food before his 7am feed. 7 hrs with neither food nor mental stimulation. Naturally, horses sleep in short spells of about 20 minutes throughout the day and night. This leaves many hours of waking inactivity on an empty stomach with the aforementioned consequences and accompanying discomfort.
Slow Feeding would change everything.
– The groom or owner would have filled a SMHN (Small Mesh Hay Net) with sufficient hay for at least 24 hours without any worry about feeding times.
– The horse would have had a continuous flow of rigorously chewed food passing through the digestion system keeping the level of burning hydro-chloride acid in the stomach at a natural and harmless level.
– When the horse works, the stomach would have been filled with a thick porridge of well chewed hay keeping the waves under control and the burning of the unprotected upper parts of the stomach to a minimum.
All this for the low cost of a Slow Feeding SMHN (which will pay for it self in reduced feeding costs and maybe even veterinary bills).
To set a price on reduced stress and worries for both the horse and the horse owner is impossible but investing in a Slow Feeding SMHN is most likely the best investment you can do for your horse.
-Most horses are fed two or three times per day but none of which are sufficient if the horse is fed on the floor and both might be over-kill if the horse enjoys SlowFeeding because many real slow feeding solutions can contain hay for at least a full day. Perfect for us who prefer to spend more time with our horse than with his hay.
-The horse can devote himself to his favorite occupation (which of course is eating) when he is by him self without the risk of becoming over weight.
Just as with humans, eating sugar (simple carbohydrates) comes with a high risk. Sugar triggers the production of insulin which influences many other hormones which together can trigger laminitis (founder). Experience shows that with Slow Feeding, as the sugar intake is spread over a longer period, the horse can process it more efficiently, lessening the chances of obesity and laminitis. The sugar level in ordinary hay can vary from 6-20% (lower values in warmer climates). Some people say that 10% sugar should be considered the safe limit for horse feed. Grass and hay with as little as 10% are hard to come by in cold climates like Scandinavia. Oats are the grain with the lowest sugar ratio but still contain some 60% simple carbohydrates. As you probably know fat is scarce in horses natural diet. Simple carbohydrates cause obesity in horses (and humans).