Veterinarians at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital answer your questions about sales and healthcare of Thoroughbred auction yearlings, weanlings, 2-year-olds and breeding stock. Email us at [email protected] if you have a question for a veterinarian.
Question: Hay nets or hay on the ground – which is better for the horse’s respiratory tract?
Dr. Kate Christie, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital: The hay net can be a useful tool in equine management. It can limit hay wasting, slow down horses who eat large volumes of hay quickly, and be a great way to make a smaller volume of hay last longer when trying to achieve weight loss. Ensuring horses have consistent access to forage may also have some benefit in managing and preventing gastric ulceration. So, should all horses use a hay net? The answer, as always, is that it depends on the situation and the individual horse.
Despite their advantages, hay nets are not appropriate in all cases. Studies have shown increased airborne particulate exposure in horses fed from hay nets as compared to those fed hay on the ground, making them less suitable for horses with inflammatory airway conditions unless the hay is steamed prior to feeding. Hay nets may also force the horse to eat in unnatural positions, adding stress and strain to the back and neck. The raised hay net also prevents the horse from eating in a natural grazing position, which may present a problem for those horses who are unable to properly protect their airway, such as those horses who have undergone surgery for laryngeal hemiplegia or roarers.
Special consideration should also be given to horses with ophthalmologic issues, as very high hay nets may increase the risk of corneal ulceration and contamination. This may be a larger problem during shipping when hay nets are often hung high and windy conditions may lead to hay and particulate matter getting in the eyes.
As with any piece of equipment, care should be taken to ensure that the hay net is safe to use. Hay nets should be avoided in stalls with mares and foals, as foals are particularly adept at getting their feet stuck places they do not belong. Small hole hay nets may be safer, but care should always to be taken to make sure they stay full as an empty hay net can cause more harm than good. Special consideration should also be given to horses with shoes – it is not unheard of for a horse to catch a shoe in a hay net and become stuck.
Overall, the decision to use or not use a hay net is an individual choice. Hay wasting, weight loss, and concerns for gastric ulceration may be good reasons to choose to use a hay net. Horses with abnormal throats, ophthalmologic disease, or those accident-prone friends of ours who are always getting stuck places may be a little bit safer grazing from the ground. With so many options available, there is a solution for every horse. As always, if you have questions or concerns about using a hay net, ask your veterinarian.
Dr. Kate Christie grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she developed her love of horses, actively competing in the show hunter world and watching Standardbred racing with her grandfather. She received her undergraduate degree in life sciences as well as a master’s degree in pharmacology and toxicology from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where she continued her riding career and further developed a passion for veterinary medicine. Kate graduated from the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine in 2014 and went on to complete a year-long rotating hospital internship at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital (2014-15) prior to entering a Large Animal Internal Medicine Residency at the University of Georgia. She became boarded in large animal internal medicine in 2018 at the completion of her residency program. Kate remained at the University of Georgia as a clinical associate professor for one year and is excited to be returning to Lexington to join the Rood and Riddle internal medicine team. Her professional interests include gastrointestinal disease, infectious and non-infectious respiratory disease, and equine pharmacology. Outside of work, Kate enjoys spending as much time as possible with her retired show jumper, Skye. When not in the saddle, she enjoys trail running, hiking, and traveling with her husband.