Browse-related behaviors of pastured horses in Australia: A survey

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Abstract

This study investigated the husbandry and management practices of Australian horses at pasture and observed browsing behavior (i.e., the consumption of nonpasture plant species). Horse owners were contacted via horse magazines, social media Web sites, and horse industry councils and invited to complete an online survey. Information was collected on location, husbandry, and feeding management of their horse(s), pasture conditions, the observation of specified behaviors and forage selection by their horse(s) at pasture. The survey had 497 respondents across Australia who owned a total of 3,082 horses. Most horses (85%) had access to grazing areas 16–24 hours per day. Owners commonly (90%) observed ≥1 pasture problems on their property, and the mean number of problems was similar across grazing areas of <2, 2–10, and >10 ha. Although the horses had access to pasture, there was a heavy reliance on supplementary feeding. 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 behaviors were reported by 75% of the respondents, with bark chewing and licking or eating dirt being the most prevalent behaviors. Almost three-quarters of the horse owners indicated that their horses browse on parts of trees, shrubs, or other nonpasture species. This study verifies that Australian horses consume a range of nonpasture species and frequently demonstrate 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.

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