Feeding time

Today, I ended up at our barn at the very tail end of feeding time and I was able to observe behaviors that suddenly became interesting to me. 

The scenario was all the “fat boys” who are the top horses at our 9 horse place…were hogging the last little piles of food not allowing the lesser horses to eat at all. 

I’ve seen them at various times through feeding, at all stages and this is what I’ve seen. The big boys get first pick…and if they decide to want another position they take it which happens in a rotation…then they munch munch munch until it’s gone allowing the lesser horses to feed while they are preoccupied and food is plentiful, YET, when it gets down to the scraps, they again bogart the entire scene pushing the lesser horses off feed all together. The big guys are big both in status and stature, they are grossly overweight, easy keepers as we call it in our world…the two biggest are like couches even through summer because the fat pads are so big on their sides. 

It got me thinking of all these interesting questions! In the wild, I’ve never seen a horse that’s super fat unless they are pregnant. Even the herd leaders, the stallions, they may be bigger and rounder in belly but they are not “un-fit” I suppose in the wild being un-fit would not allow them to be in top position. They need their leaders to be alert and have the ability to defend or lead the herd in a run away. Being fat may hinder that…yet we seem to have an abundance of easy keepers and horses that food hoard in our domestic world. I couldn’t help but wonder why that is??? 

I’ve seen the horses eating and attempt to eat everything in site pushing the lesser horses away even when they don’t really seem all that hungry. I wonder if it’s boredom? 

The reason I say this is because even when we have 12 horses together in a relatively small pasture, at least to the horses since they are used to being out on a few hundred acres…all studs, all jockeying for status…when it comes to feeding off one large bale, every SINGLE horse has a place on that bale, no one is kicked out entirely, they may be pushed away by another higher status stud but they aren’t pushed off the bale entirely to just not eat. Same thing goes for watering, the lead horses drink first but then mill around for the other horses to finish and then they take off. They seem to be acutely aware of their herd and the needs of said herd. 

It doesn’t seem to be the same with our domestic horses though so I can’t get the question out of my head as to why? Because they have never been tested? Because they are babied? Because they are just plain bored? That’s all I can come up with…horses unlike humans have little use for the kinds of emotions we have, a lot of them are just useless to them but they do seem to care for and at least in the wild take pride in their herd making sure every member is taken care of…yet in our domestic horses it doesn’t seem to be the same. 

So that’s my big question of today..I have no answers I just thought it was very interesting and I’d love to hear feedback about it just because I have no answers. It was an exciting thought for me so I thought I’d share. 

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2 Responses to Feeding time

  1. explorehorse says:

    Any resource when limited becomes precious. Horses who depend on humans for their food develop eating disorders, gorging when food is available because the rest of the day they will be starving. The body also goes into ‘starvation’ mode, storing fat as much as possible, hence the big fat pads.And when you are stressed about getting enough for yourself you cant afford to care for others. So, this behaviour is an outcome of not having a constant supply of food. I see it in my herd, those who have always had food, (lived their life with grazing) happily share their hay pile (luckily this includes our ‘big boys’), and dont get fat. Those who have spent most of their previous life in a stable, waiting for their next meal are much more food possessive and will eat more than they need, although this behaviour becomes less as they adjust to a life where food is freely available at all times. These are my observations anyway 🙂

    • eduequine says:

      I would tend to agree with you on this because it makes complete sense! The barn owner tries really hard to do what’s the best to her ability- there are 9 horses on the property. Last year there were 10 and they were allowed to free graze all day and it stressed the pasture pretty badly, so this year she did a pasture rotation but also with times where the horses were allowed in the barn (open area, no stalls) which also leads into the large dry lot. She says it extended the time they were able to be on grass this year, however seeing the feeding habits we haven’t hit the mark yet. Even though she uses slow feeders, they are only fed twice a day so the gorging persists. I’m under the impression if we did a large round bale in a net slow feeder the behavior would minimize but they think allowing them to eat all day long would use up more hay…How do you feed your herd through winter? I’m under the impression that the free choice hay doesn’t go faster if the horses know they don’t have to worry about the next time food will be available. Thank you for your comment too this is exactly what I was hoping for!

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