Saturday, March 12, 2011

Does restricting grazing really reduce grass intake?


A recent study suggests that limiting access to pasture may not be effective at reducing grass intake by ponies
Recent research, about to be presented at a biannual nutrition meeting in the US, suggests that ponies given reduced access to pasture can eat considerable amounts of herbage during the time they are turned out. Indeed they may even increase their intake during this time as they become accustomed to the routine.

Intake of large amounts of fructan, and other rapidly fermentable carbohydrates by grazing ponies has been linked to the development of laminitis.  It has become common practice to restrict ponies’ access to pasture, especially at key times of the day/year in order to reduce the risk.

The study, which was conducted at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), Aberystwyth University, in collaboration with the WALTHAM Equine Studies Group, aimed to investigate the effect of grazing restriction on herbage intake and grazing behaviour in ponies.

The grazing behaviour of eight ponies was measured daily over a six week period to assess their voluntary intake of herbage and to monitor the effects of restricting their access to pasture. Two groups of four pony mares were used. Group A had 24 hour access to pasture. The ponies in group B had three hours of pasture access daily and were stabled for the remaining 21 hours, with free access to haylage and water.

Herbage intake was estimated during the three hours when all the ponies were at pasture by monitoring the change in weight of each individual over the period. Grazing behaviour was analysed from video footage of the two groups using interval sampling. The ponies in the restricted grazing group had higher estimated grazed herbage intakes than those with 24 hour access to pasture .during the three hours studied. The difference was significant during the final week, when the restricted grazing group consumed 40% of their total daily dry matter intake as grass in the three hours at pasture. This compared with an intake of grass of around 25% of their daily dry matter ingested during the first week.
Clare Barfoot, research and development manager at SPILLERS®, said: “This suggests that ponies with reduced access to pasture are capable of ingesting considerable amounts of grass during the time they are turned out and may indeed progressively increase their intake during this time, indicating that the behaviour could be learned. The implication is that reducing ponies’ time out on normally managed pastures with the view to limiting the intake of rapidly fermentable carbohydrates may not be as effective as first thought.”

Changes in proportions of dry matter intakes by ponies with access to pasture and haylage for 3 and 20 hours per day respectively for six weeks. 
 J. Ince,A. Longland,C. J. Newbold,P. Harris.  
Journal of Equine Veterinary Science (2011) (in press)

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