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Effects of feeding management and group composition on agonistic behaviour of group-housed horses

By Joan-Bryce Burla, Anic Ostertag, Antonia Patt, Iris Bachmann, Edna Hillmann

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Abstract

Under natural conditions, horses spend 12-18 h of a day with synchronous grazing, but for stabled horses, the amount of forage and thus duration of feed intake usually are restricted. In group-housed horses, therefore, feeding times are often situations with increased levels of agonistic behaviour. Our aim was to evaluate how forage provision, feeding duration and group composition influence agonistic behaviour. The study was conducted on 50 groups of 4-21 adult horses ( n=390) housed in group housing systems. Each group was observed for 30 min before and for the first 30 min after a hay feeding. Feeding systems were 'floor', 'fodder rack', 'feed fence', 'net', 'feed stall with contact', 'feed stall no contact' or a 'combination' of these. Hay was provided mostly 2-3 times per day but the duration of hay availability varied from 1.5-24 h per day, whereas straw was mostly available ad libitum. Results showed that the proportion of horses showing agonistic behaviour was generally higher before than during feeding. Aggressive behaviour - bearing the risk of injuries by physical contact - was highest in 'floor' and lowest in 'net' (chi 26=13.0, p=0.043). Aggressive behaviour decreased substantially during feeding with an increasing duration of hay availability (chi 21=7.1, p=0.008). Threatening behaviour was highest in 'floor', 'fodder rack' and 'feed fence' and lowest in 'feed stalls' (chi 26=25.4, p

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Tags
  1. Aggression
  2. Horses