EDITOR’S NOTE: The information, ideas and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Boredom during stall confinement causes many equine behavior and welfare problems. Researchers examined seven healthy horses from the Brazilian Army Sergeants School for the behavioral and welfare effects of using a hay bag with small openings designed to extend the time required for horses to consume their daily ration of hay.
The horses were housed in individual box stalls for 24 hours each day and fed a full ration of grass and alfalfa hay. Their behavior and several welfare indicators were compared from 24-hour periods before and after the use of the hay bag feeder.
Use of the hay bags increased the time spent consuming hay by 87%. Coprophagia stopped in three out of four horses with this habit, and the time spent performing abnormal behaviors decreased from just over 2 hours a day to about 90 minutes with the bag feeders. Average cortisol circadian rhythm variation (a measure of well-being) increased from 26%, a value indicative of poor welfare, to 58%, indicating improved well-being. By the end of the trial period, none of the horses had cortisol variation values indicative of poor welfare. The authors concluded that slow-feeder type hay bags are an inexpensive way to improve the welfare of stabled horses.
— Correa MG et al. J of Vet Behavior 2020; in press