Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Let's talk about nets. Slow feed hay nets

Ever since I have owned App, which is 20+ years now, he has been a pig.  Not a swine kind of pig but a pig in his stall.  Although I have cleaned a lot of stalls in my day and, overall, he isn't THAT bad, he isn't that good either.  He does a great job of mixing his poo in his bedding and will mix his hay in with the pee and poo as well, because only the best will do his delicate palate.  He is also a waster and will waste his hay if given an ounce more than that which will satisfy his starvation.  Ah horses.

When I moved to MI and I had to pay for hay, I knew exactly what I was going to do.  I was feeding exclusively in hay nets.  And I have, exclusively.  I have the 2" hole slow feed hay nets in stalls and I double bag for outside use so that they can eat even slower.  Cause I am a bully that way lol.  I use the cheaper nets (tough one, shires, etc) and usually buy them at trade shows for $6-9 per bag.  I usually end up going through 2-4 bags a  year as they get holes in them (thanks to my velociraptors) and I have to semi-regularly (few times a month) do "net surgery" where I have to fix/replace the drawstring or tie holes shut with baling twine until I deem the net deader than dead and replace it.  I have done this for 5 winters now and it has worked well enough.  In the dead of winter I can fill 3 bags with 16lbs of hay each and after 12 hours, the horses either still have just crumbs left or they have been without hay for only an hour or so and have barely a forkful of waste. That is really good IMO.

On the plus side with this method, I have very little waste, the horses have hay for long periods of time, I can control exactly how much hay they are getting, I can control inventory and it is very high quality hay that I can inspect very closely as they are square bales.  The downside is time and effort.  When people help out, they HATE the nets.  They take me about 10 mins to fill and hang, others take twice as long.  You then are carrying the hay 10-15+ pound bags from the barn to their hanging spots.  There is a LOT of poop around the hay spots as the horses stay there almost 20 hours a day.  There is a LOT of urine spots around there as well and App has zero problem urinating exactly where he is eating.  This causes some dropped hay to be urinated on as well, which then has to be thrown away.  *sigh*

This winter I have this whole up-in-the-air about the move.  Will I?  Won't I?  When will I?  I didn't want to buy a full years worth of hay only to sell the property a week later and lose that money.  I am not looking forward to taking care of the entire farm by myself through the winter either.  If I didn't work full time, it wouldn't be any big deal but I work full time, take care of the 10 acre farm full time plus try to find time to ride, visit SO in PA, see friends, etc.  I have a lot going on.  One idea I had to reduce work was to try round bales.

Now, just to be clear, I hate round bales.  I have hated round bales for a very long time.  Why do I hate round bales?  There is just so much waste.  There is so much dust in the bales.  You can't see when there is mold or when quality has degraded.  Most are stored outside so the top few inches of the entire bale are already crap.  Did I mention the waste?  I have read that horses waste up to 50% of a round bale, I wouldn't be surprised!  They tear it out of the bale, drop half of it, stand on it, pee on it, poop on it, use it as bedding and you watch your dollar bills be chucked into the dumpster.  Ugh!

But I want to reduce work.  I want to save time.  I am willing to try anything.  So I called around and found someone who has round bales and kept them inside.   And would deliver a 4'x5' for $45.  Okay, fine, I will try it out.  I got 3 and made a note that I wanted to order a net.  I looked up the cost of round bale nets, they are $150-$200.  Eek!  Perhaps a round bale wouldn't be so bad I said.  I put a round bale at the end of my arena on a Wednesday.  The horses KNEW it was for them as I was removing the string and I felt like someone opening the doors of WalMart on Black Friday, I would have to do my business and jump back FAST.  The horses, well they were in HEAVEN.  They certainly liked the hay and stood in front of it all day.  That evening, I looked on in horror.  The waste, omg.  I threw the equivalent of at least 2 flakes of hay out every single feeding as they were covered in urine/poop. I raked the unsoiled hay that was left on the ground into a pile behind the bale so hopefully they would eat it later.  The big round bale lasted my horses 9 days before it was eaten to the ground.  Gone people.  The farmer said a bale should last 2.5 weeks and they ate it in 9 days!  Plus it was taking 15-20 mins per feeding just to clean up the mess of the hay and all 3 horses had a cough.  This was not working.

I researched and did my homework.  I found the cheapest 4x5 slow feed hay net was about $170. Well damn, that is out of my budget.  So I started dong more research.  Looking on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, wholesalers.  There are some sellers who sell repurposed fishing net however they couldn't tell me the tensile strength and I knew my heathens would destroy the netting if it wasn't strong enough. I was not willing to take the chance on the $40 plus shipping for it to be destroyed within a week.  I finally found a seller who sold bulk netting by the foot.

I learned you want a minimum of #30 net, #36 or #42 netting.  These nets have a break strength of 300lbs, 350lbs and 400lbs, respectively.  So strong enough for velociraptors.

Net porn, all naked and on display
There is also a very large range of hole sizes and I knew 4" holes would not work for us.  Hell, I didn't even want 2" holes, I wanted 1" holes.  Unfortunately 1" holes in the size I needed was too cost prohibitive so I ended up with 1.5 inch holes.

1.5 in holes, bale after 3 days of nonstop eating
No where seems to have the measurements for round bale nets.  How much net do I need?  Why is this a proprietary secret?  I knew I needed a minimum of 9" high and 16 feet around, I ended up buying a 10x20 net.  Your results may vary, however for a 4x5 round bale, it is a little large but the size makes it very easy to install the net.  I would recommend it again and even for a 5x5 bale.
Room for everyone!
I then found a old clothesline and tied the 10' sections together so it would be round.  This took about an hour, hand tying knots in 1.5 increments with a 25' line.  To save $100?  Sure I can do that!  I then took a heavy duty metal quick link and wove it through the net for the bottom and wove the remainder of the rope through the top for a drawstring.  Score!
See those sexy knots, hand tied by me personally
I used the tractor to bring out a new bale and threw the bag on the bale like a pillow case.  I then flipped the bale onto its side with the tractor and closed the drawstring.  I scooped up the bale and set it where I wanted it and, since I had plenty of drawstring left, I threw the drawstring over the rafter to help "tie" the bag up so the horses wouldn't be walking on it since I don't have a round bale ring.  We are now coming on day 4 of them having round bale 2 and it is looking much better.  The waste is about identical, if even less, than the hay bags when using square bales.  It takes me about 30 seconds to rake up the single fork full of hay that is scattered around the round bale and I throw it behind the bale for them to eat later.  And now, it is virtually no work.

Easily able to obtain hay through the net
Overall I am impressed!  I didn't expect it to go this well and I am pleasantly surprised.  I think the bale will now last the 2.5 weeks that I expected, there is virtually no waste and the round bales are significantly cheaper than square.  The cough each horse had has also went away since they can't shove their heads deep into the bale.  If I had more funds, I would have preferred the 1" or 1.25" holes but I think 1.5" is working well.  And, after 4 days, not a single tear in the net.  Win!  Let's see how it holds up long term now....

Nom nom nom


  1. glad that seems to be working out. my farm uses round bales in netting as well, tho we put one of those plastic feeder loop things around it

  2. good problem solving. I've seen someone take a plastic round tub and cut the bottom out, attach the net to the bottom and then hang it. They then just throw the hay int he top.

    I bought a slow feed net that holds a whole bale and will hang it. I'm hoping to reduce all the wasted hay I had last year.

  3. Ooh, that's a really good idea!

  4. Wow good job! That turned out great!!

    I was looking into round bale nets recently too (for slowing them down since they are so fat, not reducing waste, but apparently they don't slow them down much so I decided not to get one) and they are SO expensive... ugh! I like this one you made. I get 5x6 rolls though... ours are fertilized, pure bermuda and barn kept... for $35. Makes me really glad I live where I live. Hay is so expensive everywhere else. I love our round rolls. They waste very little of it, never have to go without and it's so easy to put a bale out. We have a hay ring so they can't waste any except if they pull it over, but they don't do that too much. It's definitely worth it for me. I can't imagine having to deal with square bales. Such a pain!