First scientific look at the environmental impact of Argentina’s horse industry

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A gaucho rides a native Criollo horse. Photo by Comparceiro (originally posted to Flickr as ABRINDO TÓCA) CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
A gaucho rides a native Criollo horse. Photo by Comparceiro (originally posted to Flickr as ABRINDO TÓCA) CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A study that aimed to gain insights into the management of the estimated 500,000 horses kept on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, in Argentina, identified the outdoor storage of manure-filled bedding waste as one of the biggest issues.

Mariana Vaccaro and her colleagues, writing in the Journal of Sustainability, Agri, Food and Environmental Research, said proper management, involving good practices, was an important factor in minimizing the environmental impact of keeping horses.

Argentina has an estimated 2.4 million equines, around 500,000 of whom are kept in the area where town meets country on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

For the study, the researchers targeted 16 sport-horse establishments, used mainly for training, in the region to evaluate the possible environmental impact they may generate.

They investigated the water supply, quantity and depth of wells, breed, productive system, type and management of bedding, feeding practices, supplementation, other ration components, and general management.

They believe their research represents the first scientific look at the environmental effects of equine production in Argentina.

They suggested that overfeeding and excessive supplementation was likely to be one of the key risks for environmental pollution, with any excess excreted by the horses. Poor management practices around dung could lead to an increase in the movement of sediments, nutrients and xenobiotics toward surface or groundwater, they added.

The researchers found that 88% of the establishments involved in the study were under the supervision of a veterinarian, while the other 12% were directly managed by the producer.

The water sources came from groundwater in most cases – between 60 and 70 meters deep in most cases.

Most employed feeding systems aimed at minimizing feed loss.

Stable bedding used in all cases was wood chip, with around a quarter also employing straw.

All establishments received advice from veterinarians in order to balance the horses’ diets. The predominant feed was alfalfa, some in pellet form.

All the facilities used concentrates in various forms.

The kinds of supplements given to the animals were similar to the ones given in other parts of the
world, they said. However, in Argentina, the use of alfalfa for equine feeding was traditional, unlike in other parts of the world.

The horses, generally kept in 4 meter by 4 meter stables with earthen floors, tended to be worked in the morning. The stables had food and water provided.

It was observed that discarded bedding and manure was generally stockpiled outside, with clearance carried out, on average, once every 45 days.

Leaving such material exposed to the open air and rain during that period raised the risk of organic matter and pollutants entering the environment, they said.

The flooring of all boxes was found to be earthen, which allowed for all the liquids filtered from the bedding and droppings to go into the ground. Only 25% of the farms were close to a body of water, they noted.

They noted that each establishment had a health plan, involving regular Coggins tests, vaccination, and deworming.

In conclusion, Vaccaro and her colleagues said the fact that all the establishments were advised by veterinarians aided early detection of possible symptoms of disease.

The deposit of waste bedding outside the stables should be reviewed because it can leach residues, they said. These had the potential to pollute the water table or surface water by runoff.

The study team comprised Vaccaro, Alberto Garcia-Liñeiroa and Alicia Fernández-Cirelli, all affiliated with the University of Buenos Aires.

Management of Equine production and its environmental impact: the case of settlements in Buenos Aires (Argentina).
Mariana M. Vaccaro, Alberto Garcia-Liñeiroa and Alicia Fernández-Cirelli
Sustainability, Agri, Food and Environmental Research, 5(1), 2017: 17-24 ISSN: 0719-3726

The full study can be read here

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