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Impact of Year-Round Grazing by Horses on Pasture Nutrient Dynamics and the Correlation with Pasture Nutrient Content and Fecal Nutrient Composition

1
Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE-75007 Uppsala, Sweden
2
Department of Animal Nutrition and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE-75007 Uppsala, Sweden
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(8), 500; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9080500
Received: 26 June 2019 / Revised: 17 July 2019 / Accepted: 19 July 2019 / Published: 29 July 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Feeding and Management)
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Simple Summary

Horse grazing may benefit biodiversity. This study compared the effect of horses grazing year-round to that of mowing on pasture quality in a forest-grassland landscape in Sweden. Twelve Gotlandsruss stallions were kept in three enclosures (~0.35 horse/hectare) without supplementary feeding for 2.5 years. Each enclosure contained three exclosures where pasture was not grazed, but mown monthly. Horse grazing increased the diversity of pasture nutrient content. Moreover, energy and protein concentrations and grass availability increased in areas grazed by horses, but decreased where grass was mown. This indicates that year-round grazing can be used to increase biodiversity, a suggestion supported by botanical observations. Nutrient content in horses’ droppings was found to correlate with nutrient content in pasture, so analysis of droppings may be used to roughly estimate the quality of pasture consumed by horses. Under the conditions studied, pasture protein content was sufficient to meet horse requirements year-round, while energy content and pasture availability may have been limited in winter. Monthly data presented here on the nutritive value of pasture can help guide the management of year-round grazing systems in the Nordic countries.

Abstract

Horse grazing may benefit biodiversity, but the impact of year-round grazing on nutrient dynamics has not been evaluated previously. This study compared pasture quality in a forest-grassland landscape grazed year-round by horses with that in exclosed mown areas. Twelve Gotlandsruss stallions were kept without supplementary feeding in three enclosures (~0.35 horse/ha) outside Uppsala, Sweden, from May 2014 to September 2016. Each enclosure contained three mown exclosures, where grass sward samples were collected monthly and analyzed for chemical composition and vegetation density. Fecal grab samples were collected and analyzed for crude protein (CP) and organic matter (OM) content. There were no differences in exclosure pasture energy or CP content between enclosures (p > 0.05). In grazed areas, there were differences in grass energy and CP content (p > 0.05) between enclosures. During the three summers studied, energy and CP content increased in the enclosures, but decreased in the exclosures. By the end, biomass content/ha was greater in the enclosures than in the exclosures. Fecal OM and CP content showed moderate to strong correlations with pasture nutrient content (r = 0.3–0.8, p < 0.05). Thus, in contrast to monthly mowing, horse grazing diversified pasture chemical composition and increased its nutritive value. View Full-Text
Keywords: pasture; horse nutrition; crude protein; exclosures pasture; horse nutrition; crude protein; exclosures
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Ringmark, S.; Skarin, A.; Jansson, A. Impact of Year-Round Grazing by Horses on Pasture Nutrient Dynamics and the Correlation with Pasture Nutrient Content and Fecal Nutrient Composition. Animals 2019, 9, 500.

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