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Stocking Density Affects Welfare Indicators in Horses Reared for Meat Production

1
Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Turin, 10095 Grugliasco, Italy
2
Public Veterinary Service, ASL TO5 Piedmont, Italy
3
Institute of Animal Nutrition, Nutrition Diseases and Dietetics, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Leipzig University, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(6), 1103; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10061103
Received: 9 March 2020 / Revised: 23 June 2020 / Accepted: 23 June 2020 / Published: 26 June 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Welfare)
Not enough effort is being made to safeguard the welfare of horses reared for meat production. These horses are kept in intensive breeding farms where they are housed in group pens at high stock densities and fed high amounts of concentrates. The aim of the study is to evaluate whether the stocking density of horses raised in group pens for meat production and their feeding management affects their welfare according to different stocking density. According to our results, when the horses had more than 4.75 m2/horse, many indicators were affected (i.e., improvement of coat cleanliness, improvement of bedding quantity, improvement of mane and tail conditions, less resting in a standing position, and less feeding related to the greater space available at the feed bunk). However, a further increment of space and/or changes in management regimes may be necessary to improve all the welfare indicators. The results also revealed the need to improve the feeding management of these animals.
Horses kept for meat production are reared in intensive breeding farms. We employed a checklist adapted from the Animal Welfare Indicators (AWIN) assessment protocol. Our evaluation aims to assess whether welfare indicators are influenced by stocking densities (m2/horse) and feeding strategies applied. An analysis was carried out on the data obtained from 7 surveys conducted at a single horse farm designed for meat production. In each survey, the same 12 pens were assessed, but on each occasion, the horses in the pens had been changed as had the stocking densities. Briefly, 561 horses aged 16 ± 8 months (mean ± standard deviation) were evaluated. Two stocking density cut-off values (median and 75th percentile: 3.95 and 4.75 m2/horse, respectively) were applied to investigate the effect of stocking density on horse welfare. Data were analysed using Mann–Whitney U and Fisher’s exact tests (p < 0.05). When cut-off was set as the median percentile, lower stocking density was associated with improvements in body condition score (BCS), coat cleanliness and bedding quantity, less coughing, less resting in a standing position, and less feeding related to the greater space available at the feed bunk. When the 75th percentile cut-off was used, indicators that improved were coat cleanliness, bedding quantity and mane and tail condition, as well as less resting in standing position and less feeding related to the greater space available at the feed bunk. Accordingly, the use of two different stocking density cut-off values showed that the increase of space allowance affected specific welfare indicators. Further increment of space and/or changes in management regimes should be investigated to improve all the indicators. Moreover, results related to feeding indicated the need to intervene as starch intakes exceeded recommended safe levels, negatively affecting horse welfare. View Full-Text
Keywords: welfare; horse; meat production; stocking density; feeding management welfare; horse; meat production; stocking density; feeding management
MDPI and ACS Style

Raspa, F.; Tarantola, M.; Bergero, D.; Bellino, C.; Mastrazzo, C.M.; Visconti, A.; Valvassori, E.; Vervuert, I.; Valle, E. Stocking Density Affects Welfare Indicators in Horses Reared for Meat Production. Animals 2020, 10, 1103.

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