Nighttime Nibbles: Why Horses Need Constant Access To Forage

by | 09.12.2019 | 8:24am

Most equine owners and caretakers know a horse needs to have something in his stomach almost constantly to avoid issues like colic, ulcers and mental stress. But what about during the night, when he should be asleep?

Research shows that horses need something to nibble even when it's dark out–but the solution isn't just to feed loose hay, which horses eat rapidly and then must wait for their morning meal. Hay that is fed in slow feeders can extend the amount of time a horse has something in his stomach by 95 to 105 percent, reports The Horse.

Barbara Hardman, a student at the University of Edinburgh's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Scotland, reported that horses that live out 24/7 will graze between 10 and 14 hours a day, with some of those grazing hours take place at night. Hardman noted that nighttime foraging is an often-overlooked piece of equine husbandry.

A horse without something in his stomach during nighttime hours may develop stereotypic behavior like cribbing or weaving, or they may begin to eat their bedding or manure. Hardman recommends using slow feeders at night to allow for a prolonged food ingestion that will not disrupt resting patterns.

To test her theory, Hardman and her colleagues used four horses in different feeding management styles that were stalled at night. Each horse got three feeding options: loose hay on the ground and two different types of slow feeder that were used on the ground.

The scientists used infrared cameras to take photographs every 30 seconds from 3 p.m. to 8 a.m. for a week. They then created behavior charts that indicated how much a horse ate, rested, laid down, moved or stood alert. They determined that the horses that had hay fed in slow feeders spent more time foraging than the horses with loose hay on the ground. Though the time period the horses foraged was longer, it didn't affect the amount of rest the horse got.

Harman recommends that stalled horses be fed hay in slow feeders to reduce the amount of time they have nothing in their stomachs. This practice could prevent the horse from eating bedding or feces, or from developing stereotypies.

Read more at The Horse.

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