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Use of feed bag in pasture

From: Ann

Dear Jessica, I turn to your wisdom for a dilemmna. I am in concerning a horse owned by one of my students and being boarded at a nearby farm. Her lovely Quarter Horse gelding is gaining weight on the rather nice pasture grass he is on 24/7 at their place. He has had a grazing muzzle on, but has either refused to eat or drink while it has been on, or has rubbed himself raw on the nose and ears. The muzzle has not been used for several weeks. He has shown no signs of any difficulty as yet, but he also is shooing his pasture mates away from their buckets at feed time and so the owners of the farm would like to feed this Quarter Horse in a feed bag in the pasture instead of the current method of bringing him into he stall to feed 2x a day. My student is uncomfortable with this, and I have my own concerns but cannot really find anything written about the use of a feed bag. Our concerns are that the weather might cause too much wet in the bag, or the feed people might "forget" to take it off, or that the summer heat might cause a fungus or something...

Personally, I have only seen feed bags used with carriage horses, and when they are finished eating, the bag comes off pretty quickly. The horse seems to be monitored constantly in these situations. This would NOT be the case here, as the stable owners feed several pastures within the morning and evening hours, and then return a bit later to leave hay. They are hoping to use the feed bag because "it is easier" than taking the horse into the barn.

Do you know anything about the use of a feed bag? or even an alternate way of dealing with the problem? They have asked the owner to purchase the feedbag herself, and she is putting it off because it "just doesn't feel right"

You are an inspiration with your insight and knowledge! Thank you for all you do! Ann

Hi Ann!

First, I'd like to ask this: Since this horse is in good flesh and seems to be gaining weight on pasture grass, WHY the horse is being grained at all? Grain isn't a basic horse feed, it's a supplement that's useful when a horse's age or workload cause it to need more calories than it can get from pasture or hay. If this horse weren't able to maintain a good weight on pasture, it would make sense to supplement its grazing somehow, but that obviously isn't the case. As this horse is gaining weight to the point where the owner has tried to use a grazing muzzle, it doesn't make any sense to be feeding it weight-gain supplements twice a day.

I think that it's probably best to continue to isolate this horse from the others when grain is fed. Not only will the other horses not get their fair share, but this one is likely to get more than he needs (not difficult, since he probably doesn't need ANY grain), and that, plus his weight gain on pasture, might put him at risk for founder. The question, then, will be HOW to separate him from the others at grain-feeding times. I'm not in favour of the nose bag "solution", for several reasons.

Using a nose bag MIGHT be a little easier for the feeders, but since the nose bag would need to be put on before the meal and removed after the meal, I'm not sure where the savings in time would come in. I would not advise leaving the nose bag on the horse. Nose bags are useful for carriage horses, for horses ridden by mounted police or patrol officers, and for horses on picket lines, as they ensure that each horse gets his own ration, prevent horses from eating sand and gravel along with their grain, and keep the horses from scattering their grain. They were useful for the cavalry, for the same reasons. Nose bags are also useful on camping trips, especially when participants are interested in minimal-impact camping. Normally, the nose bag is put on when the horse is to be fed grain or pellets, and removed as soon as the horse has finished eating. Most horses want to drink after eating, and that's not something you want the horse to do whilst wearing a nose bag. Properly-made nose bags have holes in them, so a horse that accidentally gets access to water before the nose bag is removed won't drown (a real risk if the nose bag doesn't have drainage holes), but the key word here is "accidentally" - a horse running loose wearing a nose bag is probably one that was startled by a bear, broke away from the picket line, and begame lost on a camping trip, for example. In all NORMAL, non-accidental situations, horses are supervised when wearing nosebags - and so are not at risk of drowning, or getting severely rubbed behind the ears, or of putting a hoof through the leather strap.

It wouldn't be sensible to leave a nose bag on an unsupervised, turned-out horse. Even a grazing muzzle with a built-in safeguard such as a breakaway strap and/or buckle can cause rubbing - as your student has discovered. A feed bag can also cause rubbing, and can catch on things. ANYTHING left on a horse in pasture - halter, muzzle, fly sheet, etc. - can catch on things, need adjustment, rub, and cause problems - which is why horses wearing any sort of gear need to be monitored even more carefully than horses that are turned out "naked". In any case, since this horse already has developed raw areas from wearing a grazing muzzle (and you have to wonder how that was allowed to happen, with the horse being handled several times daily!), you won't want to put anything on his head that will interfere with his healing. Nose bags just aren't designed for long-term wear, or for unsupervised wear.

You also have to consider the fact that a horse that chases other horses away from their feed tubs isn't necessarily going to stand back and stop chasing the others just because he can no longer get feed out of their tubs. He will probably continue to make the attempt to get that feed, which will mean continuing to chase the others away... and that's a situation likely to create trouble. Sometimes, even if it involves a little bit of extra work, separation is the only sensible solution.

Horses often eat at different rates of speed. When I have had to deal with the issue of two or three slow-eating horses and one aggressive, fast-eating, easy keeper sharing a pasture, I've found that the easiest way to cope is simply to install a four-sided, 12'x12' stall-sized enclosure (mine are made from "horse panel" metal tubing, and any farm/ranch/feedstore is likely to have such panels, gates, etc. in stock) INSIDE a corner of the pasture, near the feed tubs. A fast-eating, aggressive horse can be placed in this enclosure and given a scant handful of grain or hay pellets - or just a handful of hay - before the other horses' feed tubs are filled. When the slow-eating horses have cleaned up their feed, the fast-eating horse can be turned out again. This is much easier and less time-consuming than walking the horse to the barn and putting him in a stall before feeding his pasture companions, then walking him back to the pasture and turning him out again when the others have finished eating. If the pasture has a sacrifice area attached to it, that's another option - the fast-eating horse can be put into the sacrifice area until the others have finished their grain.

There's going to be some work involved, no matter what method is used. Alas, horse management isn't one-size-fits-all, and people who own multiple horses or run boarding stables must necessarily make adjustments, often on a daily basis, to accomodate the needs of the horses in their care. It's not always convenient, but it's part of the job. ;-)


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