Horses are grazers. Their digestive tract is designed to have small amounts of food moving through constantly. In the wild, they forage for the majority of their waking hours, and as they only sleep about 4 hours a day, that’s a lot of grazing. But in the wild, food is scarce. So they take in small amounts all day long.
Domesticated horses don’t usually have issues finding food. And since their instinct is to eat everything available as quickly as possible, they either overeat, or, if their forage is rationed, eat large meals and then stand around with nothing to eat for hours at a time. Which sort of leaves horse owners with the option of either a fat horse, or a colicky horse.
Small-mesh haynets make horses work a bit more for their hay. Slowing down their intake and allowing them to eat all day without taking in way too many calories. It also prevents waste. There may be tidy horses in the world, but mine would not qualify. They walk on their hay, mash it into the mud, fling it up in the air (to blow away in the wind), pee on it, etc. Then they look at me sadly… “We have NO food. This is yucky hay!”
The problem with most of the nets available locally is that the mesh is just not small enough (2 inch squares) to slow my horses down. I don’t know if mine are just so gluttonous (yep… that would be KING I’m talking about) that they need extraordinary measures, or if it’s too expensive to make smaller mesh or what. There are some good ones available by mail order, but they are quite expensive.
My solution is to use hockey nets from Canadian Tire. The holes in the mesh are 1 inch squares which is fairly challenging. I’ve been using them for a few years now. They hold up reasonably well. There is an occasional hole, but I just patch them with a bit of binder twine (the orange poly type). The ones I started with three years ago are still going. Ratty, and with lots of orange knots, but still functional. And they’ve had hard lives. Jen uses them to soak hay in the winter for Twister. He’s insulin-resistant and cannot have high sugar levels in his hay or he founders. Soaking the hay in water for a couple of hours removes a lot of sugar.
I know that quite a few people use hockey nets. And it’s not rocket science to set them up. But I thought maybe since I just bought some new ones, that I’d document the process I use to make them into good haynets.
Canadian Tire sells a number of different replacement hockey nets. But most are street hockey nets and those are not strong enough to survive horse assault. I get the 72 inch ice hockey nets.
The nets can just be doubled and the edges laced together. You can get a full bale into it when you do it that way. But I find them very unwieldy and heavy. So I’ve started cutting the nets in half and making a more standard style of haynet.
When you open the package, there will be a bundle of individual cords as well as a big wad of netting. There are coloured tabs on the net. Two red tabs, and one green tab.
Shake out the net and find the green tab. Lay the net out on a flat surface so that you don’t get confused (I am easily confused!) and can keep track of where you are.
Cut straight across the net starting at the green tab. Cut the net all the way across so you have two equal-sized sections of net. [And a small revision: take a lighter and melt the cut ends slightly to prevent fraying]
Take one section and fold it in half across the freshly cut edge. Make sure the squares match up all the way across to the corner. I pull it nice and tight so it all lines up clearly.
Next you lace the edges together. Starting at the folded edge, tie a knot around the edge of the first squares using the end of one of the long cords included in the package.
Start lacing the cord through each set of squares along the edge. I use a blanket-stitch pattern to give it a bit of extra stability and then tie an overhand knot every few squares. Keep the net lying flat so that it doesn’t get rucked up.
You’ve just laced up the bottom of the haynet and are now going up the side.
Lace up to the red tab and then a couple of squares beyond that. Tie a really sturdy knot. Do not cut the cord.
Take the loose end and run it through the top squares of only one side of the haynet. That cord is now going to be part of your pull-string that you use to tighten the top of the net. So it needs to slide easily. Don’t knot it anywhere. Just do a simple running stitch through the squares.
When you run out of cord, get another cord and match ends. Use an overhand knot to tie the ends together. Continue to run the new section of cord through the top edge squares of the net until you get back to the knot that you started. Keep the net flat and stretched out.
Tie the end of the cord back to the knot just above the red tab. This needs to be a hard knot that will not come undone. Now cut the leftover cord.
Pull the cord at the overhand knot to tighten the net.
An easy way to fill the net is to drop it into a medium sized plastic tub and fold the top edges over (like you do with a garbage bag in a garbage can). Put the hay into the tub, pull the edges up around the hay, and tighten the pull-cord.
Make sure that you do not leave loops of cord where a horse can get a foot or a head through it. I generally keep the knots high enough overhead that it’s not an issue. But you can also use snaps instead of cord to close the net. Snaps are safer, but will tend to tear the net a little more often. The net itself though has such small holes that as long as your horses are barefoot, they don’t seem to get their feet caught. And even if they did, the netting is not strong enough to hold them. I would not use any haynet down low with a shod horse though. The likelihood of catching a shoe is too great. The bottom of the net should be above chest level if your horse is shod.