About three months of age the foal's digestive system starts to change, making it able to digest forage and grain. The foal now needs microbes. The manure from an adult horse contains microbes originating from the adult's large intestine.
The Way of Horses
By Eleanor Richards
It’s your horse eating manure!
Why does he do this?
If your horse happens to be a foal it is a perfectly natural behavior.
The digestive system of the foal is not designed for utilizing grain and forage. His nutrition is coming from milk. Lactase and maltose (enzymes) are present at this time to break down the milk sugars.
About three months of age the foal’s digestive system starts to change, making it able to digest forage and grain. The foal now needs microbes. The manure from an adult horse contains microbes originating from the adult’s large intestine. This first “solid meal” will inoculate the foal’s digestive system. Some breeders will introduce a probiotic product designed for foals to aid the development of good bacteria in the digestive tract.
There may be several reasons an adult horse eats manure.
It is possible the adult horse is also adding to the microbial population in the hindgut by eating manure, but not likely.
If the horse has been receiving antibiotics the drugs may have killed the beneficial intestinal microbes as well as the bacteria which were causing the illness. Eating manure may help replenish the good bacteria.
Offering a probiotic during antibiotic treatment, and for several days after the treatment period, is a better way to keep the microbial population healthy.
But the habit of manure eating usually starts due to a of lack of, or inappropriate feed, stress or boredom…and sometimes a combination of these factors.
Horses need fiber in their diet. They are trickle feeders. Horses should graze or have access to forage on a continuous basis. Yes, some horses will get fat on a program of continuous forage, so chose your forage based on the horse’s nutritional needs. Don’t feed alfalfa or top quality grass hay to an “easy-keeper”. Try to offer small frequent feedings instead of two large meals. Scatter the hay around the stall or pen to simulate grazing.
Horses not getting enough “chew time” or are lacking in roughage will look for that fiber elsewhere. It may be the wood in his stall, the bedding, his companion’s mane… or manure.
Manure also contains some nutrients which were lost during the digestion process. If the horse’s diet is not meeting his nutritional needs (especially minerals and vitamins) he may resort to eating manure. Make sure the grain is designed for the age, performance level and type of forage being offered; feed commercial products according to the manufacturer’s feeding recommendations. Free choice salt should be available at all times.
Stress can also start the manure eating habit. Horses like routine. They like to be fed at the same time everyday. They feel safe in the same stall, with the same companions, with the same training schedule. Horses being moved from pen to pen, fed at 7 a.m. on one day and 10 a.m. the next day never get a chance to develop a routine. These horses may be nervous and resort to undesirable habits in an effort to comfort themselves.
Boredom is also a source of stress. A single horse with no stimulation or companionship may eat manure. Hang a hay net outside his stall door so he can munch and watch outside activities at the same time.
Even after making changes in the management of a horse that eats manure he may continue to eat it. It is a habit. Frequent cleaning of stalls and paddocks is very important. A good deworming schedule is also a must.
The correct name for the behavior is “coprophagia”. The name comes from the Greek words “kopros” for feces and “phagein” for eating. Most just call it “yucky”!
* Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses. You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course “How to Feed for Maximum Performance” taught by Eleanor Richards. Go to www.horsecoursesonline.com for more information. Contact Eleanor at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 616-8414. Be sure to visit Eleanor’s web site at www.thewayofhorses.com