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Open AccessArticle

Common Feeding Practices Pose A Risk to the Welfare of Horses When Kept on Non-Edible Bedding

Ethology, Animal Husbandries and Animal Welfare Research Group, Chair of Organic Agriculture and Agronomy, TUM School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan, Technical University of Munich; Liesel Beckmann-Str. 2, 85354 Freising, Germany
Chair of Animal Welfare, Ethology, Animal Hygiene and Animal Husbandry, Department of Veterinary Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Veterinärstr. 13, 80539 Munich, Germany
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(3), 411;
Received: 17 December 2019 / Revised: 13 February 2020 / Accepted: 23 February 2020 / Published: 2 March 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
It is a basic high priority need of every horse to take in roughage continuously. In order to ensure the horses’ behavioural, physical and mental welfare, any pause of feed intake should not last for more than 4 hours. However, this basic need is often neglected in practice. The aim of the presented study was to assess the welfare of horses that are fed restrictively (non ad libitum) and kept in individual housing systems. We analyzed whether the feed intake behaviour of horses on edible bedding differs from the one of horses on non-edible bedding. As a common practice, the individually stabled horses were fed roughage twice or thrice a day. Our results showed that with this restrictive feeding practice, the horses were not able to eat any roughage for approx. 9 h during the night. Horses on non-edible bedding altered their feed intake behaviour - i.e., they paused less often during their meals and at a later point in time than the horses on edible bedding. We conclude that special feeding patterns have to be implemented (e.g., automated forage feeding systems) to avoid any impairment of the horses’ welfare if kept on non-edible bedding.
During the evolution of the horse, an extended period of feed intake, spread over the entire 24-h period, determined the horses’ behaviour and physiology. Horses will not interrupt their feed intake for more than 4 h, if they have a choice. The aim of the present study was to investigate in what way restrictive feeding practices (non ad libitum) affect the horses’ natural feed intake behaviour. We observed the feed intake behaviour of 104 horses on edible (n = 30) and non-edible bedding (n = 74) on ten different farms. We assessed the duration of the forced nocturnal feed intake interruption of horses housed on shavings when no additional roughage was available. Furthermore, we comparatively examined the feed intake behaviour of horses housed on edible versus non-edible bedding. The daily restrictive feeding of roughage (2 times a day: n = 8; 3 times a day: n = 2), as it is common in individual housing systems, resulted in a nocturnal feed intake interruption of more than 4 hours for the majority (74.32%, 55/74) of the horses on shavings (8:50 ± 1:25 h, median: 8:45 h, minimum: 6:45 h, maximum: 13:23 h). In comparison to horses on straw, horses on shavings paused their feed intake less frequently and at a later latency. Furthermore, they spent less time on consuming the evening meal than horses on straw. Our results of the comparison of the feed-intake behaviour of horses on edible and non-edible bedding show that the horses’ ethological feeding needs are not satisfied on non-edible bedding. If the horses accelerate their feed intake (also defined as “rebound effect”), this might indicate that the horses‘ welfare is compromised. We conclude that in addition to the body condition score, the longest duration of feed intake interruption (usually in the night) is an important welfare indicator of horses that have limited access to roughage. View Full-Text
Keywords: horse behaviour; feed intake pause; bedding; welfare indicator; feeding practices; roughage; horse welfare; individual housing system horse behaviour; feed intake pause; bedding; welfare indicator; feeding practices; roughage; horse welfare; individual housing system
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Baumgartner, M.; Boisson, T.; Erhard, M.H.; Zeitler-Feicht, M.H. Common Feeding Practices Pose A Risk to the Welfare of Horses When Kept on Non-Edible Bedding. Animals 2020, 10, 411.

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