When a horse eats manure, it looks rather unappetizing to us. But can it also hurt? And more importantly: why does your horse actually eat manure? What signal does it send out? And do you as the owner have to do something about it?
First: as long as there are no worms in the manure, eating manure actually does not do much harm. It is even normal and healthy behavior for foals! By eating their mother’s dung, they build a healthy bacterial population in their intestines. That is why you see that some mares even push their foals with their noses towards a fresh heap …
Causes of eating manure
If your horse is no longer a foal, there can be several reasons for eating manure:
- Too little opportunity to display “foraging behavior”
- Too little roughage / fiber
- Mineral deficiency
- Vitamin deficiency
When an adult horse eats manure, it is important to think about the management of your horse. Is he getting enough roughage, free movement and interaction with other horses? And does his ration contain enough minerals and vitamins?
Boredom and grazing
A horse that is bored may start to eat manure. Boredom arises, for example, from standing in the stable for too many hours, too little contact with fellow horses or too little (free) movement. Even if your horse does not have the opportunity to display so-called “foraging behavior”, he can start eating manure. By foraging behavior we mean searching for food, nibbling and grazing. Using straw as a stable cover, or as an extra nibble material, can help combat this form of boredom and meet your horse’s natural needs. Put some willow branches in the paddock for them to gnaw on. You can turn it into a snack wall where you can put, for example, nettle, vegetables (eg fennel, celery and parsnip) or hay. You can also place edible shrubs next to the paddock such as hawthorn and rose hip bushes. Horses are allowed to eat the leaves, the flower and the rose hip.
Not enough roughage
Did you know that horses need 2 kilos of hay per 100 kg of body weight per day? Too often we see that the standard of 1 kilo per 100 kg body weight is still maintained. The fibers in this roughage ensure a full feeling. When your horse does not get enough fiber, he can start eating manure. So make sure you have plenty of good quality hay, for example in slow feeders. Then your horse takes longer and that also prevents him from getting bored. If possible, opt for unwrapped hay.
Roughage alone does not contain all the necessary nutrients. Certainly in the Netherlands it is always necessary to give a balancer. Eating manure can also be a sign of a mineral deficiency in your horse. Most horses have a salt block at their stable, but it often contains only salt and few other minerals. If your horse is fed grain-based concentrates and does not receive a mineral pellet or supplement, a lack of, for example, phosphorus, silicon, magnesium, sulfur, iron, zinc or copper can occur.
It is best to supplement sufficient roughage with a balancer such as Pavo Vital or Equilin. You only need to give a maximum of 500g per day, which indicates that it is highly concentrated vitamins and minerals. With concentrates you often need larger quantities to meet the daily requirement of vitamins and minerals. And a horse’s stomach can only properly process a maximum of 500 grams of feed at a time. A grain-free balancer is therefore the best choice. Optionally, you can make an extra water bowl with a liquid mineral supplement based on Bering seawater that the horses can drink from as needed.
Vitamin deficiency: B and K.
Eating manure can also indicate a shortage of vitamins, especially B vitamins and Vitamin K. These vitamins are produced by your horse in its blind and large intestines. It may happen that your horse does not absorb enough of these vitamins. Then they end up in the manure. The cause of this can be grains in the concentrate. A horse then eats this manure again, to still get the vitamins. Giving extra vitamins B and K could therefore help. But it is even better to replace the grain-based concentrate with a balancer. Feeding extra roughage can also lead to more production of these vitamins.
Conclusion: Eating manure is a matter of management
When an adult horse eats manure, it is a good idea to take a critical look at his daily life and feed. Does the horse get enough free movement, social contact, roughage and variety? If so, take a good look at the food. Replace the power for a balancer with easily absorbable vitamins and minerals such as Metazoa, Vitalbix, Equilin or Pavo Vital. Make an extra water bowl in the paddock with liquid minerals that the horses can drink from as needed. And give your horses leftovers from your own kitchen such as fennel, carrot, celery, pumpkin seeds, radishes and carrots. Especially with leaves and / or stump, which contain the fibers. Note: in foals, eating manure is very normal and even healthy!