Placing feed troughs 10 metres apart helps reduce aggression at meal times, Brazilian researchers have found.
The study team conducted a series of trials in which they varied the distance between feed troughs, their height off the ground, and the number provided to the horses to see what effects it had on aggression at meal times.
A decent distance between the feed dishes – 10 metres – reduced signs of aggression among the horses, they reported in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.
Caroline Maia and her colleagues reported that pinned-back ears were the most common form of agonistic behaviour observed.
The eight horses involved were first observed during the different feed treatments in what the researchers called the primary phase, when the horses had no previous experience of feeding together.
The feeding experiment was repeated in the secondary phase, once social relationships had been better established.
In each treatment, the research team recorded aggressive behaviours for 30 minutes while the horses were feeding.
They found that a distance of 10 metres and a trough height of 0.71 metres reduced kicking behaviour in both phases.
Initially, they found that a spacing of 10 metres, placing the troughs at ground level, and providing more troughs – 1.5 per horse – resulted in reduced instances of horses pinning their eyes back.
However, in the secondary phase, the effect of distance remained consistent, but the effects of height positioning and the numbers of troughs were opposite, which they said pointed to the influence of social stability in displays of aggression at feed time.
But, in both phases of the study, the 10-metre spacing between troughs reduced aggressive behaviours, regardless of the social factors at play. This knowledge, they said, may be used to improve the horses welfare.
The research was centred at the University of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Husbandry in Botucatu.
Maia was joined in the research by Marina Luz, José Carlos Pantoja, Marcos Chiquitelli Neto, and José Nicolau Puoli Filho.
Feeding time and agonistic behaviour in horses: influence of distance, proportion and height of troughs
Marina P.F. Luz, Caroline M. Maia, José Carlos F. Pantoja, Marcos Chiquitelli Neto, José Nicolau P. Puoli Filho.
The abstract can be read here.