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Eliminative behaviour of free-ranging horses: do they show latrine behaviour or do they defecate where they graze?

By I. Lamoot, J. Callebaut, T. Degezelle, E. Demeulenaere, J. Laquiere, C. Vandenberghe, M. Hoffmann

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In contrast to horses in pastures, it is thought that free-ranging horses do not perform latrine behaviour, i.e. a behavioural pattern whereby the animals graze and defecate in separate areas. However, few studies deal with this particular subject, reporting contrasting conclusions. We hypothesize that horses free-ranging in large heterogeneous areas do not perform latrine behaviour. Thus, we believe that grazing and elimination behaviour are spatially related: where horses graze, they will also defecate. Behavioural data were collected from Konik horses, Haflinger horses, Shetland ponies and donkeys, grazing in different nature reserves (54-80 ha). Data for the different equids were analyzed separately, as well as data for mares and stallions (Konik and donkey stallions only). We investigated the proportion of the number of defecations/urinations while grazing on the total number of defecations/urinations; furthermore, we searched for the sequence of behaviours representing latrine behaviour in the strict sense. Additionally, we analyzed the correlation between grazing behaviour and eliminative behaviour on both vegetation type level and patch level. All the female equids often continued grazing while defecating. During urination, grazing ceases in the majority of instances. Cases where a mare terminated grazing in a certain vegetation type and sward height to eliminate in another vegetation type or in another sward height within the same vegetation type were rarely observed. On the vegetation type level as well as on the patch level, there was a highly significant (P<0.001) positive correlation between grazing time and number of eliminations (or eliminating time). The high values of the correlation coefficients (in case of the defecation variables r ranges between 0.553 and 0.955; in case of the urination variables r ranges between 0.370 and 0.839) illustrate that the spatial distribution of the eliminative behaviour can be explained to a high degree by the spatial distribution of the grazing behaviour. Results in the case of the stallions are preliminary, but indicate the same pattern. Horses, free-ranging in large heterogeneous areas, do not perform latrine behaviour, but defecate where they graze. Possibly, animal density is of major importance to explain this behavioural difference with horses in pastures. We suggest that also spatial vegetation heterogeneity and plant productivity of the grazed area, as well as parasite status of the grazing animals could play a role.

Date 2004
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 86
Issue 1/2
Pages 105-121
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2003.12.008
Language English
Author Address Department of Biology, Terrestrial Ecology Unit, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281-S8, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  3. Biological resources
  4. Defecation
  5. Donkeys
  6. Grazing
  7. Horses
  8. Mammals
  9. pastures
  10. peer-reviewed
  11. ponies
  12. space
  13. urination
  1. peer-reviewed