PUSLINCH – Two residents who care about hay waste are behind an invention that is helping horse owners locally and across the country.
A durable plastic bin that is four by four feet long, the Hay OptiMizer is a feeder designed to reduce waste and encourage slow feeding for horses.
Sue Wilson is the owner of Wishing Well Services Ltd., one of two companies selling the Hay OptiMizer. Wilson, who previously ran a horse stable sitting business for 30 farms, said she noticed the same challenges with waste while feeding horses.
"My lens is primarily as the person doing all the horse care and how terrible it is to see all that waste," she said about why this product is important for horse owners.
Horses, who are messy eaters, knock hay to the ground while using a feeder. Wilson said 50 per cent of hay can be wasted this way.
“The way the OptiMizer works is you unclip it (netting), slide the slide arm out of the way, lay new hay in, cut the binder of the hay and put the two bales in, and then slide this back, clip it (netting) and you’re done," said Wilson. “So compared to filling a hay net, which we did 10 hay nets a day, this would be the equivalent of four hay nets, and that would’ve taken 25 minutes.”
The netting on the product encourages grazing, a natural tendency by horses. Wilson mentions their gastrointestinal tracts have been evolved to do so.
"Their stomach acid builds up and they need time to digest or else they get ulcers," said Wilson, noting horses are also susceptible to overeating when hay is left out without a barrier.
Before the Hay OptiMizer, Wilson said farms would use hay nets to encourage slow feeding and reduce waste. While good for hanging up in individual stalls, hay nets only feed one horse at a time.
“This one fits two bales of hay,” Wilson said about the Hay OptiMizer. “Four or five horses can eat comfortably around it."
The first generation of the Hay OptiMizer was called the OptiMizer and was designed by Matthew Bulmer, owner of Core One Enterprises. Bulmer is also a Puslinch councillor with an engineering background, and hay farmer.
Bulmer said he was shocked by the amount of waste created by horses, and designed the product to help save money and energy.
“The less waste you have, the more anchorage can be used for other crops,” he said.
In 2009, Wilson moved to Guelph and decided to run her own stable. While researching better ways to feed her horses, she came across Bulmer's product. Today, she rents a paddock for her horses at Corwhin Hills Farms, which is owned by Bulmer.
Wilson said when she first used Bulmer’s product, she was blown away by how easy it was to use, but felt the holes in the net were too big. She notes the product was too heavy for her to lift, as it was made out of steel.
“I would just love it if we could make it light,” said Wilson, recalling her conversation with Bulmer about the product. “I went on vacation and when I came back, he had a working prototype.”
That prototype came out in 2018, and after further modifications, the final product was released in November 2019 for sale at the Royal Agricultural Fair. Today, the Hay OptiMizer is sold across Canada and the United States.
"I really love working with people to optimize their care for their horses," said Wilson.
“That’s Sue’s gift is seeing the need for things,” said Bulmer about working with Wilson. "The one thing we have in common is customer service."
Besides the benefits the product brings to horse owners, the Hay OptiMizer also has an environmental benefit. Bulmer explains the product is made with durable plastic and can be ground down with other plastics to be reused.
“When this product is manufactured, there is zero waste," said Bulmer, noting there is a lifetime guarantee for the Hay OptiMizer.
Recently, Wishing Well Services is one of nineteen companies which received a grant valued at $30,000 from Innovation Guelph earlier this month. Wilson said this is one of three grants the Hay OptiMizer has received.
"We've grown slowly, partly because of the pandemic, but partly because we have a lot to learn," said Wilson, noting many customers are happy about the reduced waste and having cleaner barns.