Editor’s note: We at The Horse are horse owners like you. Certain equine-care products have impacted how we manage our own animals, and we want to share our experiences with you. These select products are ones we use and love every day.
I live and work on the West Coast, while my co-workers at The Horse in Lexington, Kentucky, are three hours ahead of me. That means I need to start my workday as early as possible to catch up with them and sift through my already full email box, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for a Pinterest-perfect morning routine, let alone horse chores.
For a long time, I woke up at 5 a.m., fed my horses their concentrate for breakfast, and then cleaned their stalls and runs while they ate. When they finished, I would turn them out together into their large paddocks where they have all-day access to hay in slow-feeding nets. This worked well for my hungry Hanoverian-hippo cross, Marathon, who vacuums down his breakfast, but my presence and activity left my less-eager eaters distracted. My Quarter Horse, Jack, likes to ignore his breakfast in favor of knocking over the wheelbarrow or attempting a great escape if I turn my back for even a second while stripping his run. Instead of focusing on eating, he watched my every move between nibbles. This routine and the amount of time it took was less than ideal.
I first learned about iFeed Naturally automatic horse feeders from Dr. Clair Thunes, who is a regular nutrition content contributor to The Horse. Shortly after Dr. Thunes told me about them, researchers from Colorado State University published research showing frequent feeding of small meals using the iFeed Naturally system reduced the prevalence of gastric ulcers in horses in training.
The iFeed hoppers hold 12 pounds of feed and dispense it via a funnel into a feeder according to a schedule you select on a control unit. Dr. Thunes told me how beneficial they are for horses on stall rest, those with gastric ulcers that shouldn’t have large grain meals, and for chore efficiency. So, I decided to give them a try. They were easy to install on our stall bars with minimal modification to the walls.
Now, the iFeed units reliably dispense breakfast at 5 a.m. while I sleep in until 5:30. By the time I get my coffee and wander to the barn, everyone is done eating and ready for turnout. Horses go out, and I can whip through cleaning stalls and runs. The feeders dispense a second serving at 8:30 p.m., which is about the time we bring the horses in at night. During shorter winter days when the horses come in earlier, I further divide their rations so they get a third portion at 5:30 p.m. Easy.
The iFeed units were an investment for sure but, to me, totally worth the expense. Here’s why:
- Instead of me weighing individual servings (or eyeballing approximate amounts, if I’m really being honest), the iFeed units accurately measure portions of my horses’ ration balancer down to 2 ounces. With the iFeed units, I find I go through less feed and know my horses are getting the right amount of nutrition. It also means I can precisely budget for feed costs and schedule trips to the feed store (which has been especially helpfully during the current COVID-19 pandemic).
- Each feeder delivers an individually set amount of feed, so my 1,000-pound mare gets less, and my 1,350-pound mare gets more.
- Before I had the iFeed units, I fed concentrate once a day to reduce my chores. Now, I easily split my horses’ rations into two or three servings a day, as I described previously.
- My gastric-ulcer-prone chestnut mare seems to do better on multiple small concentrate meals per day rather than the larger, single portion I used to give her.
- When we travel, the iFeed system makes horse care easier for house-sitter, whom I’m sure is happy to no longer weigh feed each day.
- If my horses were to require stall rest, the system can be set to feed up to every 30 minutes (48 times per day!) to help reduce the risk of gastric ulcers brought on by the stress of confinement.
- And the hoppers are easy to fill—just add feed when they get low.
One word of advice: Take your time to train your horses to the feeders. Initially I didn’t, and Jack (who’s a sensitive guy) still prefers to leave his stall when he hears the motor click and waits for his iFeed unit to dispense, returning to eat after it’s done. Marathon, on the other hand, eagerly waits at his trough. With my new filly, I exposed her to the iFeeder first by manually feeding her in the dish, and then had Marathon show her the ropes while I used positive reinforcement and paired a treat with the motor sound. I was initially concerned that the horses would develop anticipatory or superstitious behaviors around the automatic feeding, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Jack, for example, used to run his teeth along his stall bars while I scooped grain, but he has not paired that behavior with the automatic feeders.
I am definitely a fan of the iFeed Naturally system. Using it means I get an extra sleep during the work week and saves time when I feed and do barn chores. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take all the extra sleep—and help—I can get. Now, I’m waiting for someone to develop a robot stall cleaner.