Adjusting your Handy Hay Net set up for appropriate slow feeding during stressful conditions like winter.

hay net set up in winter.jpg

As winter creeps toward us and the days get shorter I thought it was a good time to talk about adjusting your hay feeder setup to help your horses be healthy, happy and to help reduce stress.

I spend a lot of time on the phone with wonderful customers, supporting you to observe your horse's behaviour with their hay nets and translating that into practical solutions to reduce stress in your horses' environment and minimize your work managing them.

So how do you know when you should change your setup such as the number of bags and/or size of netting?

As a general rule, ANY situation where your horse might be more stressed such as: trailering, shows, sickness, old age, cold weather, very wet weather, stall confinement, new environment or new herd members etc., I recommend a netting hole size of 1.5” be available with or without a 1" holes bag as well if they are transitioned to one. This can still be by the portion (the amount you normally feed) unless you choose free choice feeding principles. **Please don’t introduce a smaller netting hole size during these times. If you do you will be adding stress and you may see your bags get damaged.**

Hole size next to a quarter coin.

Hole size next to a quarter coin.


I always recommend a minimum of one extra bag than the number of horses. For my two horses Kolya and Sage, use two large full 1" hole bag inside the shelters because the horses use them a lot when it's hot or the bugs are bad in the summer, and when it’s windy, raining, snowing or slushy in the fall/winter. I also put out two 1.5" hole medium bags tied low to the ground to two trees as well as two or three 1" hole trailer bags with only a few flakes in each down toward the end of the track system. I’ll often put their nightly alfalfa portion in these as it encourages movement in winter and they enjoy shaking out the tasty leaves. Most days I only have 2 to 3 bags to refill. It makes things much easier in the winter when there's lots of snow ploughing to be done on top of my regular chores!

Here’s what I recently suggested to a customer when coaching her on her winter slow feeding set up…

I told her to put the bulk of the hay in a 1” hole bale bag. Also, put out a 1.5” hole medium bag. Very slowly decrease the amount of hay in the 1.5” bag and don’t fill this bag more than once a day so they start to decrease their dependence on it. How long does it take until you can remove the 1.5” bag? That really depends on the horses involved and please make sure you have enough bags so that herd dynamics are not a factor (e.g. the lead horse standing at the 1.5” medium bag and keeping the rest away). And a side note here… don’t be afraid to add the 1.5” hole bag back in during cold winter weather!

The point is to watch your horses and be as flexible as possible during winter months, letting THEM dictate and tell you what they need. For example - your horses know when a storm front is coming and may mysteriously eat a bit more a day or two before it arrives. Maybe they need more nutrition because they are still thickening their winter coats? All of this is ok with me as my horses don’t have weight issues and I trust them to take what they need. As a result, they are relaxed in their home environment.


If you are seeing a lot of holes in your bags it is a SURE sign that your horses are having a difficult time. Either the texture/length/type of hay is not appropriate for the netting size, and the horse is trying to help with that by making LARGER holes 😆 OR your horse isn’t getting enough food for their nutritional/caloric needs. Excessive pawing along with a tight body/eye while eating from the bag is also a clue to watch for. I have a great blog post with lots of pictures to demonstrate types of hay and netting hole sizes here.


While it is perfectly normal and expected for horses to put on a little weight going into winter, any horse with a history of metabolic issues, large fat pads and hard cresty neck etc., probably needs to be transitioned to 1” hole Handy Hay Net. 

It’s important again, to let the horse guide this process a bit to reduce any stress that might come with the change. If you do need to repair your bags we include a bit of repair twine with each bag, or you can buy a spool here to keep on hand. 

It’s ok to be creative, and it’s ok to make mistakes.

I’ve found that having my horses at home with me has given me a LOT of insight into how changeable their needs truly are. After all, if they were wild in nature they’d be able to caretake their own needs and this is what I am trying to emulate as much as I can. Nature is creative!

We can cause our animals undue stress by being too rigid with our feeding regimens.

I hope this was helpful.

Until next time...

Netting Sizes

Whether you're a Handy Hay Nets newbie, or a long time supporter of our slow feeding system, you've probably noticed there are a rather intimidating amount of hay nets to choose from. Even for the seasoned slow feeding veteran, it can be difficult to choose a hay bag system that will work best for your farm.

Most people consider slow feeding to be a one-size-fits-all concept. We have discovered however, that there are a great variety of factors to consider when choosing the right system for your animal. The age of your critters, the time of year, and the coarseness of your hay, all have an influence on how comfortably your horse can self regulate their own hay consumption.

If you find your animals are trashing their bags, gobbling hay, or continue to have weight problems, then you may want to reevaluate your hay and netting combinations.

Finding the right combination of hole and bag sizes, to use with which critter, during which season, with which hay, can be a bit of a brain tangling experience. So we've put together this guide to help demystify the process of setting up an ideal slow feeding hay net system that will work for you, your farm and your animals.

Lets start with netting hole sizes.

2” Netting

2" net with coarse hay.

2" net with coarse hay.

Coarse hay.

Coarse hay.

This is the netting to start most draft horses or other large breeds such as warm bloods and senior horses. You can also use this hole size for cattle year round.

Hay Types: grass hay, timothy hay, alfalfa and all others.

1.5" HD net with coarse hay.

1.5" HD net with coarse hay.

1.5" net with fine hay.

1.5" net with fine hay.

Fine hay.

Fine hay.

This is the best netting to start most horses. Young, old, skinny, new to slow feeding horses, or ones that have feed related anxiety, high performance athletes, during trailering, and ideal during the cold fall and winter weather. It can also be used in the same way as 1” netting for drafts and larger breed horses. Cattle can do well on 1.5” netting, if you only have a few cows.

Hay Types: all types, best for fine hay and straight alfalfa

1" net with medium/coarse hay.

1" net with medium/coarse hay.

Medium/coarse hay.

Medium/coarse hay.

This hole size is perfect for the avid slow feeder horse that requires further slowing down of their hay and/or you own a small pony or miniature donkey or horse. This is a good hole size for smaller animals like rabbits, or to start mini's, donkeys, mules, alpacas, sheep, goats and lamas that are on grass hay (use larger hole size for pure alfalfa to limit damage to your nets). 

Hay Types: medium to coarse grass hay

0.5" net with medium/coarse hay.

0.5" net with medium/coarse hay.

0.5" net with coarse hay.

0.5" net with coarse hay.

Medium/coarse hay.

Medium/coarse hay.

.5" hole size is perfect for donkeys, mules, small ponies, miniature goats, and minis trained to hay nets who are in a relaxed environment.

Hay Types: medium­ to coarse


It’s very important to be flexible with the hole size when using slow feeder hay bags with your animals, this will prevent damage to your nets in the long run. When the weather turns ugly your animals may be cold and require more food intake to stay warm, particularly if they do not go inside a warm barn at night. Stress is another factor that we need to keep in mind; when trailering, performing at a competition, or under intense training, please use a large hole netting with your regular slow feeder. You don’t need to give them their whole ration in it, just a flake or two.

Here at home when winter comes we use 7 bags for our 2 horses, who are kept together in a dry lot. 5 medium sized bags in the 1" netting and 2 medium bags in the 1.5” hole size. With this setup we keep our horses moving around the lot, and even with an easy keeper, we have hay left in the 1.5" at the end of a long winter night!

Why the kind of hay you use matters with 1/2" and 1" hole slow feeder hay nets.

This is a great example of the PERFECT texture 1/2" and 1" Handy Hay Net™ Slow Feeder Hay Bags.

Since I began the journey into slow feeding with hay bags a few years ago, there has been a lot of trial and error and experimenting along the way. Even though I started my horses on 1.5" slow feeder hay nets initially, I found that they could get too much hay, too fast and were bloated and over eating, so I started making my own 1" hole bags.

NOTE: I think it's important to clarify here that this entry is more about the texture of hay and not the quality or nutritional value of the hay. It is impossible to discern the quality of hay visually. The only way to do this is through a qualified laboratory.

Close up of perfect texture hay for 1/2" or 1" slow feeder hay nets. This is the hay in the 1" bale bag featured in the video.

Notice how easy it is for them to get the hay out? This is what we want! Otherwise the amount of effort and/or damage to the bags will cause A LOT of frustration for the animal, and expense to you.

Have you ever wondered why your animals damage your hay nets?

One of the reasons is that the kind of hay we use in the bags is more important with the 1/2" and 1" hole bags than the 1.5" hole bags. For example, I found that hay that is too short (short strands) is much harder for them to get out, as is very, very fine hay and very coarse hay, with alfalfa (a legume) being the MOST difficult of all. This is because the stock of the alfalfa tends to get stuck in the small holes, so then horses have to pull a lot harder to get it out, which can lead to holes in your hay nets. 

There are other reasons as well, such as animals not being properly introduced to slow feeding systems, health issues etc.... but we'll leave that topic for another blog entry. **Access our Getting Started Guide here.**

This is fine hay, and it is very difficult for animals to get out of the 1/2" and 1" hole hay nets.

Coarse hay with alfalfa, is also extremely difficult to get out of 1/2" or 1" hole hay bags.

As you and I both know, if you've just spent a truck load of money on a truck load of hay, it's not practical or even possible to return it or resell it to find hay that works with your 1/2" or 1" bags. This is why we recommend having both sizes on hand, in case your animals need to be able to access their forage in very cold weather, or if you're noticing your animal (horse, sheep, goat, alpaca/llama etc.) is looking thinner than they should. If in doubt....experiment! Your animals will tell you what they need.

I hope this sheds some light on the topic of hay texture and accessibility for 1/2" and 1" hole slow feeder hay nets.

Until next time,