Hay Bags: Hang `Em High

Most people only use hay bags to feed their horses when on the road, but hay bags are useful for more than travel. Hay bags also have places in your barn, whether to keep the hay ration off the ground or stall floor or to provide hay access to tied horses, or any other area where the usual hay-on-the-ground won’t do.

Be sure you hang the hay bag securely, as most horses are anything but gentle when they grab out a piece of hay.

Some horses also think they make great toys, even pawing at the bag just for fun. A hay bag should hang high enough that the horse can’t step on it in it, but low enough so the horse isn’t reaching too high to get the hay.

Hay bags also can do double duty as a hay tote, reducing mess and waste when you transport it to a stall, field or trailer. Even the smallest bags hold at least two good size flakes of hay — enough for a day away from home. The largest capacity bag held up to half a bale of hay.

If you’re using a mesh bag or a canvas/vinyl bag with an open top or mesh inserts, slip a garden-size trash bag over the filled bag before loading it in the trailer to reduce the mess from loose hay pieces shaking their way out of the holes.

String hay bags and those with mesh at the bottom of the bag are excellent for wetting down hay, as the water from the hose or soaking the bag will run right out and not be trapped in the bag.

Feeding from hay bags can help protect your horse from bacteria, viruses and parasite larvae when housed away from home. They also decrease waste with stall or outside feeding, compared to hay racks, nets or feeding from the ground. Because the horse has to work harder to get the hay, hay bags are ideal for horses whose hay ration must be limited.

Our Trials
Our ideal hay bag is:

• Easy to clean and simple to load
• Designed so the horse eats more slowly but has easy access to the hay
• Able to stay securely in place
• Styled to decrease waste from too many strands dropping out
• Durably manufactured
• Made with good ventilation to reduce respiratory irritants.

Virtually all hay is contaminated with dust/dirt and molds to some extent, making hay one of the prime offenders as a respiratory-tract irritants. Ventilation is a key feature in a hay bag for a horse with any degree of respiratory problems. The mesh hay bags, Toklat’s Hay Ball and Weaver’s nylon/rope bags are the best bets for ventilation. However, these are messy because small pieces of hay fall right through. Rope hay nets/bags can be dangerous if they come down and the horse’s legs become entangled.

If the horse will only be using a hay bag sporadically, and you prefer the look and convenience of a nylon bag, choose one that has mesh at least on the sides, or top and bottom, and be sure not to pack the hay in too tightly, leaving plenty of room for air to circulate.

Bottom Line
We’ve come a long way from the days when nylon/rope nets were the only hay “bags” available. We are leery of rope bags because their design increases the chance of the horse getting a hoof caught in the bag and wrapping it around himself.

Today’s hay bags are friendlier to both horse and owner, easier to load and allow less loss of hay. Most are designed to remain securely in place so that the horse isn’t chasing a moving target holding his hay.

Most of the bags we tested were impressively durable, with quality materials and good reinforcement. We were especially pleased with the craftsmanship and visual appeal of the KR’s Custom Bag and the Professional’s Choice Wrangler bag, although we’d suggest a few design changes for both.

Our favorite bag was the Classic Equine Deluxe Hay Bag, which offered easy loading, simple cleaning and good ventilation. It was easy to hang securely and held a lot of hay. The horse had easy access through its nifty front design, which featured a lattice of access holes. Waste was minimal.

Best Buy is easily the Horse Sense Premium Hay Bag. It’s well-made, durable and nicely designed — and costs $8.95.

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