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Adequate Roughage Prevents/Minimizes Wood Chewing

January 1, 2006     E-mail this page to a friend!

Hungry horses will chew on fence posts and rails, trees in the
pasture, stall walls and mangers. Even a well fed horse that has
all his nutrient requirements met by pellets or some other
concentrated feed (such as grain, with minimal roughage) will chew
wood, just because he doesn't feel full. Grain and high quality,
high energy feeds given to today's domestic horses may more than
satisfy their needs and they may even be too fat, but leave them
short on fiber and chew time. With the advent of pelleted and
concentrated feeds in recent decades, wood chewing problems have
increased, especially in confined horses.

The horse is a grazing animal and his digestive tract is
designed to work best when it has feed moving through it at all
times; in natural conditions (in the wild or at pasture) he spends
much of his time grazing. This is the healthiest situation for his
gut (since his cecum and large intestine continually ferment and
digest forages, as they were meant to do) and for his mind.

Studies 30 years ago looked at reasons for wood chewing. A
Cornell University study in the 1970's documented that horses chew
wood when no hay is available, even when they are fed an adequate
diet. Ponies in that study were fed a pelleted ration and no hay,
but had access to pine boards (2 by 4's). Each pony chewed up or
consumed about 3/4 of a pound of pine wood per day. When hay was
added to their diet, the wood chewing decreased by 80 percent.

More recent studies have shown that increasing a horse's hay
ration prolongs the time he spends eating, and therefore decreases
wood chewing. Concentrated feeds do not satisfy a horse's need for
fiber fill nor chewing time even though they satisfy his
nutritional needs. It takes only about one-tenth the time to eat
a pelleted ration, for instance, as it does to eat hay, leaving the
horse a lot more time to be bored and idle, looking for something
else to do. It also leaves his gut relatively empty for more of
the day, which stimulates his craving to chew on something.

If your circumstances do not permit having a horse at pasture,
or his nutritional needs (in an athletic sport, for instance)
require energy-dense feeds, he will still do better if you can
provide some low energy roughage for him to munch on between meals.
A very plain grass hay will readily satisfy his need for chew time
and give his gut the "fill" it needs for healthier function, and
drastically cut down on stable vices like wood chewing, cribbing (a
compulsive behavior that is much more serious than wood chweing)
stall walking, weaving, pawing, etc.

By Heather Thomas
Box 215
Salmon, Idaho 83467