Since October I own a curly horse who
was given to us from its owners in the sub-arctic Nome, Alaska. We live in more
temperate Alaska. The horse is a six year old gelding. He weighed about 960 #s
at 15.2 hands when he arrived in October and we managed to bring his weight up
to 1,111 #s despite a very long cold spell of minus 30°F recently.
a few weeks ago I noticed that he grazes on his own manure. I feed him timothy
hay (6.9 to 7.2 percent protein according to the farmer) and about 10 percent
more with each 10°F drop in temperature from freezing, so at minus 30°F, he got
about 30# a day. He also gets about eight pounds of 12 percent sweet feed (Stablechoice)
a day and he's got a mineral stone to lick on and water offered at least twice
a day. Before I switched over to the sweet feed grain
mixture, I fed him soaked beet pulp that his previous owners gave him.
is he lacking that he needs to eat his own poop? I don't think he's bored as he
has on a 100x100 ft turnout area with a run-in shelter and he's got lots of company
as we also have a dog team with 30 dogs that accepted him as part of the family.
My question is if the poop eating is a bad
habit or sign of lack in nutrition?
a lot, Diana Haecker, Talkeetna, Alaska
When an animal eats manure, it is termed coprophagia.
I know of no research on the topic, I'm going to run through all the possible
causes that I can think of. First of all, it is...
behavior for foals.
It is a fairly commonly observed behavior in foals.
In foals, a popular explanation is that the foal intrinsically knows that it needs
to populate its digestive system with the bacteria from the dam's manure that
will help the foal's intestines break down its new diet which includes roughage.
Some have speculated that adult horses might be doing the same thing.
With older horses, eating manure might start out as an innocent
experiment, perhaps an attraction to warm feces which might appear like a mash,
a comforting meal on a very cold day. Especially when a horse is a bit underweight,
it is easy to see how manure could serve as another feed source. That's why in
many extreme horse rescue operations, the first responders make note of very little
feces around (and wooden fences and.........). But you report your horse has gained
a good bit of weight, and is in good condition, and is being fed properly.
Protein, Energy ?
It has also been speculated that a horse might eat manure
because he lacks fiber, protein, and energy in his diet. You outline an excellent
cold weather feeding regimen for your horse which appears to include ample roughage
(long stem hay), protein (12% protein sweet feed), and energy (timothy hay plus
the 8# of grain per day) with extra hay in proportion to the drop in temperature.
Kudos to you.
of Minerals or Salt?
Another possibility cause for coprophagia could be
a need for certain minerals or salt. You do mention a mineral block, but I wonder
if your horse has access to a plain white salt block too. Often horses need/crave
more salt than they get in a mineral block. That's why I provide each horse with
free choice access to a plain white salt block as well as what is popularly referred
to as a 12:12 block - that is a calcium/phosphorus trace mineral block where the
calcium and phosphorus are in an equal proportion to each other. Some horses eat
more of one block than the other and it changes from week to week, season to season.
lived in Alaska myself, I know you are doing the best you can watering him, but
if there is any way you can set up free choice water, that would be ideal and
would erase that from the possible list of causes. There is a slight possibility
he is attracted to feces because of its high moisture content.
and animals do all sorts of strange things when they get "cabin fever"
and your horse could possibly be a bit bored since I'm guessing he doesn't get
ridden much this time of year. It could be an activity to just pass the time.
the bottom line is this, and it is just me guessing from what you provide below
and my observation of horses over the years: Your horse was underweight. He was
fed a beet pulp mash by his original owners and for a while by you. He might have
started eating manure more than a few weeks ago, when he was still a bit underweight,
and perhaps missing his "mash". What started as a behavior with a cause
initially (being underweight, hungry, cold, and liking his mash) may just be continuing
as a habit - just because. Horses are like that - often continuing a behavior
long after the initial cause is gone.
he were my horse, I'd make sure he has a mineral AND salt block, plenty of water,
and exercise and diversion.
Stay warm. Breakup is
just around the corner !