I got a good laugh the other day when I read the feeding instructions I’d left for my helper. I have three paddocks of two ponies each, so one might think that feeding instructions for each paddock would be identical. Nope. In fact all three were different. Why might that be?
- Paddock 1: 2 ponies, divide hay into two piles, ¾ in one pile, ¼ in the other
- Paddock 2: 2 ponies, divide hay equally into two piles
- Paddock 3: 2 ponies, divide hay into as many small piles as is feasible.
Yesterday I was talking to my mentor, and he said that he and I share a fascination with ponies that others can’t understand. I’m sure he’s right, and I’m fortunate that my feeding helper enjoys observing animal behavior, so I can describe what I want done and why, and she understands.
So here are the answers to why the feeding instructions vary across the three paddocks. In Paddock 1, there are actually three ponies, a mare with foal and another mare. The mare with foal obviously needs more feed than the solo mare, so she gets the bigger pile. Fortunately, she’s dominant, so she keeps the other mare from snitching hay. The solo mare is also a very easy keeper, so she needs even less hay than usual, hence the 3:1 instead of 2:1 difference.
In Paddock 2, a mare and a stallion are very fond of each other and have similar feed needs. They will often eat out of the same pile, so two piles of hay is sufficient to keep the peace there.
In Paddock 3, I have one ‘worst kind of easy keeper’ and another pony who needs as much feed as I can give her. By spreading the piles out as much as possible, the high-needs pony has the best opportunity to get what she needs. She also gets a supplementary bucket to help out. When I’m feeding, my easy keeper gets tied for one feeding to give my high-needs pony an even better opportunity for adequate feed, but I don’t ask my helper to do that for safety reasons.
Given these sorts of management details, it’s easy to understand why so many equines are stalled on a regular basis: no need to worry about herd interactions while feeding. But my ponies seem happy in their paddocks with their friends, so I’ll keep managing feeding time, and I’ll definitely keep giving thanks to my feeding helper who doesn’t wince when I give her a full page of instructions!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013