DENVER, Colo., Oct. 11, 2023 – A recent Morris Animal Foundation-funded study sheds light on how to better care for horses by evaluating the effects different feeding methods have on equine health and well-being. The results have been published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.
Effects on behavior and health
Feral and wild horses can spend about 16 hours per day grazing. Changing their access to food can affect their natural behavior and lead to health problems. To understand these changes better, Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers looked at several feeding methods including free-choice feeding or unlimited food access; use of a slow-feeder, which also allows unlimited hay access but requires the horse to pull hay through a net; and use of an automatic box feeder.
“Taking care of horses means more than just giving them a place to stay, food and water,” said Jéssica Carvalho Seabra, a researcher involved in this study. “It means giving them an environment where they can do things that are part of their natural behavior like grazing.”
Weight gain and foraging
Researchers found that horses using automatic boxes and slow feeders consumed less and exhibited slower weight gain. Both methods effectively regulated food intake. Horses with the freedom to choose when to eat had the highest hay utilization and weight gain rates, suggesting that this approach might not be optimal for overweight horses.
Horses with access to free choice feeding or a slow feeder spent more than half their day doing natural activities such as foraging. Conversely, horses using the box feeder spent only about a quarter of their day eating, and this treatment increased the time that horses spent standing, sniffing the ground and ingesting their own feces.
Reducing aggression and stress
Furthermore, horses using the box feeder displayed more signs of aggression. During the study, the researchers noticed that horses became more aggressive as the feeders’ size became smaller and access to the food became more difficult. To mitigate this, researchers suggest that if horses are given a limited amount of food, it’s important to ensure enough space for each of them to eat without feeling crowded.
“Selecting the right feeding technique can extend the time horses engage in natural behaviors, reducing the incidence of chronic stress and potentially curbing the emergence of abnormal and stereotypic behaviors in the long run,” Carvalho Seabra said.
About the Morris Animal Foundation
Morris Animal Foundation’s mission is to bridge science and resources to advance the health of animals. Founded in 1948 and headquartered in Denver, it is one of the largest nonprofit animal health research organizations in the world, funding nearly $160 million in more than 3,000 critical animal health studies to date across a broad range of species. Learn more at morrisanimalfoundation.org.