It is not easy to limit the absorption of grass or hay. Grazing muzzles are increasingly advised to reduce feed intake.
Research shows that a grazing muzzle does not have a negative influence on the social behaviour or well-being of horses. In many cases, a grazing muzzle even has a calming effect. Grazing muzzles are very effective in tackling overweight. They ensure that a horse or pony gets 30 to 83% less grass.
Because a grazing muzzle covers the mouth and nose hairs, it does affect the grazing behaviour and body language of horses. They cannot groom when wearing a muzzle, nor can they show their facial expression or bite. However, research shows that this does not cause an increased stress level and that it even has a calming effect.
Amy Burk from the Maryland University (United States) researched the effect of grazing muzzles, together with student Kristina Davis. They presented the results of their research during the Equine Science Society Symposium.
Burk and Davis used six mini-horses for their research, which are known to be easily overweight. Throughout the research they were divided into three groups on three different meadows. One group without a muzzle, one group wearing a muzzle for ten hours a day and one group wearing the muzzle the entire day.
The behaviour of the ponies was continuously video-recorded and factors such as weight, body condition score, neck size and belly size were frequently recorded. Each pony was given a score between one and five, to show acceptance of the grazing muzzle. A 1 stands for full acceptance, a five stands for rejection.
Indicators for this were heart rate and cortisol-level in the saliva, which indicate the amount of stress.
The ponies who continually wore the grazing muzzle lost weight, but did not show any other physical changes. They showed no stereotypical behaviour or frustration.
The ponies who temporarily wore a grazing muzzle, grazed less and rested more.
The ponies wearing grazing muzzles grazed for a longer period of time and therefore had to work harder to get grass. They had a lower heart rate and showed more variety in heart rate. There was no difference in cortisol-levels of saliva between the different groups.
A similar study on a larger meadow with all the ponies together showed that the ponies with a permanent grazing muzzle lost weight, while the ponies from the other two groups gained weight. “Apparently, the ponies that only temporarily wore a muzzle were able to eat the lack of grass again”, said Burk.
The ponies all covered the same distance, because they functioned as a herd. “The ponies with muzzle moved the least, the ones without muzzles or who temporarily wore a muzzle, trotted and galloped more often.” Although the ponies could only show limited dominant behaviour, the hierarchy within the herd did not change. Burk concludes that grazing muzzles are a good way to deal with overweight. “Constant grazing can improve the condition of overweight animals and has a calming effect.”
Source: The Horse
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