Weaning foals marks a stressful event in horses' lives. Limited research exists regarding different housing methods post-weaning and the long-term implications on horse behaviour and welfare. The purpose of this study was to monitor behaviour and physiological stress markers in horses weaned individually in solid partition box stalls versus horses weaned in small groups and housed in paddocks. Both treatment groups underwent maternal deprivation stress, but the stalled weanlings had the additive effects of social isolation which prevented them from performing social behaviours. Quarter Horse weanlings from the Michigan State University, Merillat Equine Centre, Michigan, USA average age 4.5 months, were weaned in 13.4 m2 box stalls (n=6) or in groups of three in a 992 m2 paddock, which had very limited grazing forage and an open shelter available (n=6). Subjects were fed concentrate and hay to National Research Council recommendations. A time budget for 31 observed behaviours was developed. Behavioural observations were made 2 days per week, approximately 6 h per day, for the duration of the 56 days study. Instantaneous samples were recorded every 5 min on each observation day, with equal division between the two treatment groups (n=35 scans per horse per observation day). Focal data were recorded continuously between scans to provide a more detailed ethogram. On each observation day, faecal samples were collected to measure 11,17-dioxoandrostanes, an indicator of glucocorticoid metabolite concentration. Regarding the faecal 11,17-dioxoandrostanes, there was no discernible treatment difference either immediately post-weaning or at the conclusion of the 56 days study. Interestingly, all 12 weanlings showed a 4 week post-weaning increase in 11,17-dioxoandrostanes. The reason for this peak was unclear. Behavioural observations demonstrated a significantly different time budget in paddock-housed weanlings than in stall-housed weanlings (P<0.0001). Paddock-housed weanlings displayed a time budget more like a feral horse time budget, showing more time spent moving and less time spent lying. Paddock-housed weanlings, who had the option of selectively engaging in a broader range of behaviours, showed strong motivation to graze and be near conspecifics. Stalled weanlings spent significantly more time engaged in aberrant behaviours licking or chewing the stall/shed wall, kicking at the stall/shed wall, pawing, and bucking/rearing bouts (P<0.03). Based on the variety of behaviours shown, the ability to engage in strongly preferred behaviours, and freedom from aberrant behaviour, we conclude that the paddock-reared, group-housed weanlings had better welfare. However, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the stalled weanlings had poor welfare.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
|Author Address||Animal Science Department, Michigan State University, Anthony Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org|
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