Australian horses browse a wide range of non-pasture species – research

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grass-eatNearly three-quarters of horse owners in an Australian study said that their animals browsed on parts of trees, shrubs, or other non-pasture species.

The researchers said their work verified that Australian horses consumed a range of non-pasture species and frequently showed bark-chewing behavior while at pasture.

“It is currently unclear if the selections of browse and bark stripping observed in this study are a function of reduced pasture availability or vegetation diversity and diet choices,” Mariette van den Berg and her colleagues wrote in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

The researchers from the University of New England in New South Wales and the CSIRO science agency set out to investigate the husbandry and management practices of Australian horses at pasture and observed browsing behavior.

Horse owners were contacted through horse magazines, social media websites and horse industry councils. They were invited to complete an online survey.

Information was collected on location, husbandry, feeding management, pasture conditions, the observation of specified behaviors, and forage selection at pasture.

In all, 497 horses owners across Australia took part. They owned a total of 3082 horses.

Most of the horses – 85% – had access to grazing areas 16-24 hours a day.

Ninety percent of owners observed one or more pasture problems on their property.

“Although the horses had access to pasture, there was a heavy reliance on supplementary feeding,” the researchers reported.

“Approximately 95% of the horses were fed concentrates and/or supplements on a daily basis, and 86% of the horses were offered conserved forage.”

Surveyed browsing behaviors were reported by 75% of respondents, with bark chewing and licking or eating dirt being the most prevalent. Nearly three-quarters of owners indicated that their horses browsed on parts of trees, shrubs, or other non-pasture plants.

Van den Berg was joined in the study by University of New England colleagues Wendy Brown and Geoffrey Hinch, and Caroline Lee from the CSIRO Agriculture Flagship.

Browse-related behaviors of pastured horses in Australia: A survey
Mariette van den Berg, Wendy Y. Brown, Caroline Lee, Geoffrey N. Hinch.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2014.11.001 |
The abstract can be read here

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