New research into the benefits of strip grazing (or break feeding) has shown that eating less does not correlate to horses and ponies moving less.
Restricting grass intake is an essential part of many weight management programmes. Having shown in a previous study that strip grazed ponies gain significantly less weight than ponies with free access to restricted grazing over a 28-day period, feed manufacturer Spillers and their research collaborators set out to discover whether eating less as a result of strip grazing also means moving less in the field.
To evaluate the effects on “activity levels” of ponies strip grazing individually, behavioural data from the previous study were analysed. The team also evaluated a second study that had been carried out in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College, to look at the effects of strip grazing on the behaviour of ponies turned out in groups.
In the second study, 10 ponies were randomly assigned to one of two adjacent paddocks. Both paddocks were the same size, had been managed in the same way and subjectively had the same amount of very limited grazing available. Paddock B was divided into seven strips (using electric fencing) with ponies given access to one additional fresh strip of grazing every day; ponies in paddock A had access to the entire paddock for the duration of the study.
In both studies, behaviour and activity levels were assessed on several occasions using a combination of direct observation and activity monitors attached to the poll strap of the ponies’ headcollars.
Clare Barfoot RNutr, Marketing and Research and Development Director at Mars Horsecare UK, home of the Spillers brand, said the results of both studies showed that the strip grazed ponies moved just as much as the unrestricted ponies. “Similar amounts of time were spent grazing, standing and locomoting (which included walking, trotting and cantering) within the different groups and encouragingly, behaviours related to stress and frustration were low in both studies too,” she said.
“While we were unsurprised to see that the strip grazed ponies preferred to graze the newly accessible grass and spent most time grazing in the four hours after the fence had been moved, we believe this finding could be useful when deciding if and how those prone to laminitis should have access to grass.”
Spillers is now looking into the effects of strip grazing on the water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) or ‘sugar’ content of the grass as well as pasture recovery.
Longland, AC, Barfoot, C, Harris, PA. Strip-grazing: Reduces pony dry matter intakes and changes in bodyweight and morphometrics. Equine Vet J. 2021; 00: 1– 8. https://doi.org/10.1111/evj.13416
Cameron, A., Longland, A., Pfau, T., Pinnegar, S., Brackston, I., Hockenhull, J., Harris, P.A. and Menzies-Gow, N.J., 2022. The effect of strip grazing on physical activity and behaviour in ponies. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, p.103745