Do herbs affect the palatability of horse meals? Researchers investigate

Share
Five herbs are tested in oats in a study carried out by the University of Life Sciences in Poland.
The research team assessed the response of horses to five different herbs. (File image)

Many horse owners add herbs to their horses’ meals, but could it be affecting palatability?

Researchers with the University of Life Sciences in Poland carried out an experiment to assess the response of horses to different herbs added to their daily oats.

Anna Stachurska and her fellow researchers, writing in the journal Animals, noted that the commercial horse feed industry uses flavors to mask the undesirable tastes of some feeds and enhance product acceptance. However, an unknown odour or taste may also hinder feed intake.

In their experiment, involving 20 adult horses, five different herbs were added alternately to dry, wet or wet-sweetened oats. The study team used field mint, common yarrow, common chamomile, common sage and common nettle, consecutively, once daily.

The common herbs were collected and packed by a firm in Poland and distributed, in a dried ground form, by a store that sold products destined for horses.

The herbal inclusion rate amounted to 10 grams (or 3 grams in the case of common sage). This was one-third of the producer’s daily recommendations.

Each herb was mixed into 0.5kg of oats with a wooden manual stirrer to obtain a dry feed. For wet feed, 100ml of water was added, and, for sweetened offerings, 50 grams of sucrose was added. Meals that served as controls had no herbs added.

The researchers assessed the horses’ willingness to consume the meals. They noted the time spent smelling the feed, the length of time to consume it, and the number of breaks taken, including to get water. They also measured the weight of the leftovers.

The results showed that the properties of the herbs studied did not hinder the consumption of the meals. Only the odour of the dry common sage delayed the intake.

Wetting, or wetting and sweetening the diet, accelerated the intake.

“The lack of significant differences in the response to the addition of different herbs indicates that the horses identified the herbs in the amount offered weakly and their feeding behaviour was indifferent to the herb species,” the study team said.

“It may be speculated that properties of the herbs studied, except the common sage, were not sufficiently distinct to affect the horses’ sensory experience during feed intake.”

Discussing their findings, the researchers said the most significant factor which affected feed intake in the study was not the herb in the amount offered but diet presentation (dry, wet or wet-sweetened).

“Irrespective of the herbs added, wet-sweetened feeds are usually ingested most willingly, i.e., not smelled before consumption; wet diets are in second place, whereas dry diets are smelled longer.”

The average leftovers of the meal with dry common sage was greater than that of the dry control diet, which shows that the herb was consumed unwillingly, they said.

They said more research was warranted using greater amounts of the herbs. “However, it cannot be excluded that an enhancement of the herb content in the feed may limit the intake instead of increasing it.

“The herbal addition should be increased with caution because some herbs may disturb the animal’s health. The present study considers the effects of only five herbs offered within novel diets on some aspects of horses’ feeding behaviour. It can be suggested that many other herbs warrant investigation in this regard.

“Interestingly,” they continued, “the horses interrupted their consumption to drink water only in the case of the dry and wet-sweetened feeds. The wet diets did not elicit any need to drink water.”

The horses interrupted their meal to drink water in the case of dry common yarrow, dry and wet-sweetened common sage, and common chamomile.

The common yarrow traditionally used in human treatment has a nice meadow odour; the common sage has a camphor smell with a citron tone, whereas the common chamomile has a strong herbal odour. All three have a slightly bitter taste, and perhaps this was the factor that sparked the need for water, they said.

“In conclusion, herbs in small amounts do not significantly affect the willingness to consume feed. Although wet and wet-sweetened diet presentations may be novel to horses, they increase the feed palatability.”

The study team comprised Stachurska, Ewelina Tkaczyk, Monika Różańska-Boczula, Wiktoria Janicka and Iwona Janczarek, all with the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland.

Stachurska, A.; Tkaczyk, E.; Różańska-Boczula, M.; Janicka, W.; Janczarek, I. Horses’ Response to a Novel Diet: Different Herbs Added to Dry, Wet or Wet-Sweetened Oats. Animals 2022, 12, 1334. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12111334

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

Horsetalk.co.nz

Latest research and information from the horse world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.