Inedible Equine Bedding May Negatively Affect Welfare

Horses that are stabled multiple hours a day are generally fed two to three grain and forage meals while they are indoors. These horses are typically bedded on sawdust, shavings or some other non-edible bedding. A new German study suggests that this system of management is detrimental to a horse’s welfare.

Horses prefer to eat the way they do when the’re on pasture: grazing almost constantly. Horses that are stalled are negatively impacted by the lack of food during the night when they are kept on non-edible bedding.

Drs. Miriam Baumgartner, Theresa Boisson, Michael H. Erhard and Margit H. Zeitler-Feicht found that stalled horses average nine hours a night where they have no food in their system. If offered a choice, a horse wouldn’t disrupt their grazing for more than four hours at a time. When turned out 24/7, about 30 to 40 percent of the horse’s time is spend grazing.

The researchers created an experiment that analyzed whether the feeding behavior of horses bedded on straw differed from the behavior of hoses housed on non-edible bedding. The study used 30 horses bedded on wood shavings and 74 horses bedded on straw; the horses were housed on 10 farms.

For the study, all horses grazed for 6 hours a day, with 2 hours off grass before their final hay of the day. The scientists reported that the horses on non-edible bedding finished their hay faster and took fewer pauses while eating. The scientists determined that the horse’s natural feeding needs were not being satisfied when they were bedded on inedible bedding. They concluded that this negatively impacted the horse’s welfare, putting them at risk of pain, suffering and harm.

They suggest that specific feeding patterns should be implemented for horses stalled on non-edible bedding, such as automated forage feeding systems. They suggest further studies should be done to determine the physiological and behavioral effects of restrictive feeding practices when no edible bedding, like straw, is offered.

Read the full study here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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