I have been feeding my two horses (a 26 YO TB and a 2 YO Paso Fino) 'free choice' hay. The TB is used to eating a little, then wandering off, and the baby came from a herd where he had to scramble for hay and so is eating all the time -- he consumed ALL the hay (I was throwing out about 20 pounds twice a day). So, the TB shed out in the spring and was a rack of bones, whereas the baby was a little butterball! The free choice is working quite well -- the TB is as fat as he ever gets (I also give him about 3-4 pounds of beet pulp daily, and 6 oz ground flax seed), and the baby is slimming down a bit, and also still growing.
Now, the problem. I live in Wyoming, and in an area remarkable for wind even for Wyoming. My pasture is not irrigated, and has sand, small rocks and sage brush. I also have a barn with a 12'x30' run-in area in front of the stalls, with rubber floor matting, and opening to the south and into the pasture. I can and do put hay in there for them, but they both prefer to be outside, so I put the bulk of the hay in an area about 50' from the barn. Along comes the wind, usually from the west, and the hay blows out of the pasture. I have heavy wood posts and poles in the corners, and coming from the barn to the gates (2 and 4 sections), but the rest of the pasture is fenced with smooth wire, with the top wire electrified. The hay blows right under, and I cannot see putting in any kind of mesh to trap it, as I do not want to encourage them to be eating near and under the fence. I use small square bales, alfalfa/grass mix, and the current lot that I have is heavy -- they're at least 80 pounds. One bale is good for about 2 days. I considered getting a round bale holder (one of those circular things), but that seems like it might encourage them to do unsafe things, like stepping over the rail (the TB could probably do that without working up a sweat.) A trough doesn't seem like a good idea -- they'd pull the hay out, and the potential for injury on sharp corners seems too great. I've seen some feeders that are rectangular, with a V-shaped area to drop hay into. I have a friend here who feeds hay in that manner, but his is in a somewhat protected area. I suppose it would at least help, especially if the long side face the west so the hay would simply be blown against the opposite side.
Any thoughts, or solutions others have come up with? There is one stretch of post-and-pole fence that could probably form a back drop for a feeder, but my preference is to put it out into the pasture a little way so they can get to it from all sides, and so they don't consider it 'inside'. So I need something large enough that they'll know it's there, even in the dark, and safe enough (i.e., rounded edges, like pipe) that bumping into it won't cause major injuries. Anything that will trap the hay for a while will be an improvement. The problem with the type I've described is that the eating level is usually about 3 feet above ground, and I'd prefer that they eat no higher than 1 to 2 feet up. That of course means hoof level, and so it must either be wide enough that they can't get a foot trapped, or narrow enough that a foot can't go in. And the baby has small feet! I suspect this is going to require a balancing of desirable and undesirable factors.