27 Jun 2011


Does your pony wear a muzzle or are you thinking of using one to restrict their grazing? Read on to find the results of a brand new study into the effectiveness of grazing muzzles. 
With the grass being at its nutitional peak in Spring, horse and pony owners are all worried about their equines intake of lush grass. With laminitis and obesity fears at the forefront of most horse owners minds, a new study into the effectiveness of grazing muzzles is sure to be welcomed by the equine community.
Photo by hookedonhorses.co.uk
The new research1 shows that using a grazing muzzle can reduce the pasture intake of ponies by over 80%. Horses, and especially ponies, given free access to grass appear to be more susceptible to obesity and related disorders, such as insulin resistance and laminitis, than those with restricted access to grass. However, even reducing time at pasture may not be as effective as previously thought.
Another study has shown that ponies may adapt their grazing behaviour to eat more in a short time span2. The new research shows that the use of a grazing muzzle could be a much more effective and reliable solution if used appropriately.
Grazing muzzles significantly reduce bite size and intake. Anecdotally, ponies fitted with grazing muzzles spend a greater proportion of time engaging in foraging and eating directed behaviours than their non-muzzled counterparts, yet either lose weight or retain an established, trim body condition.
The study aimed to quantify the effect of wearing a grazing muzzle on herbage intake by ponies.
Four mature ponies were recruited for the study. After an adaptation period, their pasture intakes were determined when wearing a grazing muzzle and when grazing without a muzzle. Pasture samples were obtained daily to assess the grazing available. Insensible weight loss (ISWL) was determined for each pony immediately preceding and immediately following each three hour grazing period.  Intakes were determined by changes in body weight after the three hours of grazing, using a calibrated weighbridge.
Pasture intake by the ponies grazing for three hours without muzzles averaged 0.8% (with some eating close to 1%) of their bodyweight, which is the equivalent of up to two thirds of the recommended daily dry matter intake  for many ponies on restricted diets. Owners therefore may under-estimate pasture intakes of un-muzzled ponies, even when they are provided with restricted time at pasture. In contrast, the pasture intake of the ponies when wearing muzzles was around 0.14% of bodyweight over three hours, representing an average reduction of 83% compared to when they were not wearing muzzles.
Clare Barfoot RNutr and the research and development manager at SPILLERS® said: “These figures clearly show how effective grazing muzzles appear to be as a method to restrict pasture intake. The study has given us helpful, practical guidance on how we can safely manage grass intake to control weight gain and reduce the risk of obesity-related disorders, without significantly compromising the natural behaviour and wellbeing of our horses and ponies.”
Grazing muzzles must be used with care, should be properly fitted and horses and ponies should be adapted gradually to wearing them. Group and individual behaviour should be monitored closely to observe any potential concerns caused by changes to the herd dynamics. Total exclusion muzzles are not advised.

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