Hay bags or horse feeding bags have been around for a while and are a popular option when transporting hoses as they decrease the mess and waste on the floor of the lorry or trailer. But increasingly, many horse owners are opting to use horse feeding bags or hay bags as part of their daily stable management routine and there are some compelling reasons for this.
Feeding on the floor is the ideal position for the horse as it mimics the grazing pattern and provides the correct angle for the teeth to grind against each other to ensure good even wear. Whilst this is the gold standard, sometimes it is just not feasible to feed hay on the ground. In the field, it can just go everywhere particularly on a windy day and it spreads out and becomes trodden in especially during the winter when the ground is wet, creating a slimy mess which then needs removing come springtime when you want to rest the paddock and treat the grazing. As anyone knows who has ever done this, this is a real back-breaking and thankless task. Feeding hay like this on the ground creates a lot of wastage and it is hard to provide defined feeding stations which can lead to arguments between horses and potentially, some injuries. Communal hay feeders can work but are a lot of effort for just one or two horses and are not always feasible in a large group if some of the horse don’t get on.
In the stable, feeding hay on the floor again creates both mess and wastage and most horses end up spreading the loose hay through the bed making it harder to muck out. This usually results in more hay than necessary being thrown away because it has become contaminated with bedding and clean, usable bedding which is all mixed up with the hay also ending up in the wheelbarrow. If you feed soaked hay then this is even more of a nightmare; soaked hay goes everywhere and the horse ends up treading on it and creating a wet hay carpet in the front of the stable. So, yes, it is ideal to feed hay on the floor healthwise but, in reality, it is impractical, wasteful and can sometimes even be dangerous.
Why use a horse feeding bag?
There are some compelling reasons why you should use a hay bag or a horse feeding bag and these include:-
- Much less waste and mess when you are travelling. Keeping the hay more confined allows you to feed hay whilst the horse is travelling but minimises the wastage and the dust issue which can be significant even in a lorry with all the windows open or a trailer. If your hay bag has a mesh base then slip a large bin liner over it before you travel to reduce even more dust and loose hay falling out through the holes in the bottom particularly on hay bags that you are storing and not feeding immediately
- Hay bags are a great way to transport hay rather than loose in a barrow at home on the yard – it just goes everywhere on a windy day resulting in wastage and more time spent sweeping the yard. Large capacity horse feeding bags can hold around half a bale of hay and make light work of transporting loose hay
- Does your horse eat soaked hay? No problem. Just use a horse feeding bag with a mesh bottom and hang it up like you would a normal soaked hay net before you feed it. This combines the benefits of drainage that you get from a traditional hay net with the clever design of the hay bag, keeping more secure hay in the bag whilst the horse is eating whilst still allowing any residual water to drain away
- Hay bags are perfect for horses who guzzle their hay ration quickly or who are on limited intake for weight reasons. Horses have to work harder with hay bags so it slows down the rate at which they consume the hay
- For horses who are easily bored and prone to stable vices, hay bags encourage a slower intake of food meaning they are kept occupied for longer
- Hay bags are safer than traditional rope or nylon hay nets as the chance of the horse becoming caught up if the bag were to come loose at the wall are greatly reduced by their largely closed design
Tips for buying a good horse feeding bag
If you haven’t used a hay bag or horse feeding bag before then here are some points to guide you.
- Strength and security – pay particular attention to the closure at the top and the strength of cord used to tie the bag
- Consider the attachment which you will use to tie the bag to the wall – does this work for a standard metal tie ring or the fitting on your lorry or trailer? Some bags are square or rectangular in style which can make it harder to attach to a single ring whereas others are teardrop-shaped with a drawstring closing to one central hanging point more in the style of a traditional hay net
- Opt for a style that minimises the amount of hay dropped on the ground
- Choose a design so that the horse eats more slowly but can still gain easy access to the hay and won’t become frustrated
- Will a bag that is largely closed be a better option for your horse if he has a dust problem?
- Look for a bag manufactured with good ventilation to reduce any respiratory irritants, most hay contains dust and some mould and so the ventilation aspect is crucial particularly for horses who already suffer from RAO – Recurrent Airway Obstruction
- Consider the material the bag is made from, what would happen if your horse did become entangled in it? Rope can cause the most awful burns and narrow nylon string to tie the top can cut into the horse’s legs when it is wound around and create nasty deep wounds
- The bag should be sturdy and durable against even the most destructive horse
- Easy to clean
Here are some of the best horse feeding hay bags for 2020.
Shires Equestrian Hay Bag – a tough, strong bag from the well-known name of Shires with a cut-out hole to reduce hay wastage. This bag is easy to use and very durable and tear-resistant with positive customer reviews on this point from people who have tried other brands and found them wanting. Easy and super quick to fill, hay wastage is minimal
Shires Hay Net Bag – a variation on the above also from Shires, this easy-to-fill hay bag has small mesh panels on either side which encourages slow feeding and also allows the bag to spin round and offers access from both sides which some designs do not – this can be a problem when travelling if the horse has turned the bag around and cannot then access the contents. The base and sides are made from perforated fabric and this bag can accommodate a large volume of hay
Amesbichler Hay Pocket Hay Bag – made of strong 600D nylon, the fine mesh slows down hay intake and keeps the horse occupied for longer, ideal for those that bolt their hay ration or who are on restricted intake. The bag is easy to attach to the outside of a trailer or lorry and in the stable via two carabiners
Haygrazer Bag – a slow feeder ideal for stables, lorries or trailers and also for field use. Easy to fill and carry, the Haygrazer bag has a mesh base to allow the dust and water from soaked hay to filter through whilst keeping the hay intact
EZIZB Oxford Top Load Hay Bag – this stylish square bag made from tough Oxford fabric is durable and easy to carry, perfect for when you stable away at a competition. The bag is easy to fill from the top and has an adjustable and removable carry strap which makes it not only easy to move around but to attach anywhere either indoors or outdoors
Le Mieux Hay Tidy – in a smart black or navy with a capacious square shape which makes it easy to fill coming together at the top into a gathered triangular shape using a drawstring so simple to hang in different locations with an adjustable strap and clip. The Le Mieux Hay Tidy is tough, hard-wearing and has a feeding panel on the front with reinforced stitching for even the roughest feeder
Weatherbeeta Hay Bag – made from tough canvas allowing the horse to feed from the top or from a handy opening on the side. The Weatherbeeta Hay Bag comes in a range of designs with a matching fleece rug and travel boots if you want the complete matching set
Hy Event Pro Series Hay Bag – a convenient and easy use hay bag with an adjustable strap and clip fastening to make it totally portable and when out and about at events but equally as convenient at home. Available in black, charcoal, navy and burgund
QHP Collection Closed Hay Bag – a closed hay bag which really does minimise waste and also allows you to move the hay around, for example, whilst you are travelling without it getting dirty. This hay bag is 100% polyester with a round opening and a net window for the horse to eat from at the front. The bag has rings at the top and loops at the back which provide a range of securing points depending on where you want to hang it. Available in a smart nautical blue check design or a lighter pattern called pacific flowers
How to ensure you use your horse feeding bag safely
Similar to the traditional hay net, there are risks when tying something up in front of a horse and then leaving him to it. The golden rule always has been that the fewer things in the horse’s stable the better; there is always one horse that manages to untie the hay net and ends up getting caught up in it. So, here are some safe practices to always remember when you are using a hay bag.
- always hang a horse feeding bag up high, as high as you can on the ring as it will drop down as it becomes lighter and with the impact of the horse tugging at it
- you may need to alter the ring height to suit the horse. The bag needs to be high enough that the horse can’t paw at it as some do – remember, the bag can lower as it becomes lighter – but not so high that the horse is feeding at an unnatural angle
- always tie up to a metal ring and not the baler twine as the twine is designed to break under pressure and is not nearly so secure
- choose a design that allows you tie up securely to your particular fitting – this could vary, for instance, if you are tying the bag to a circular metal ring tie overnight or a square fitting on the back of a trailer for a couple of hours or round the top rail of a wooden fence in the field
- don’t pack the hay in so tightly that air cannot circulate, this just increases the possibility that the horse’s airway will become irritated by dust
Managing hay is one of the key parts of any horse owner’s daily routine, anything which keeps that chore to a minimum and saves work has to be a bonus. Hay bags can save time and cut down on unnecessary wastage which in turn saves money. They are particularly useful when you are out and about at events and competitions and make light work of moving hay around – no mess, no fuss.