Grazing behavior of horses on pasture: Predisposition to strongylid infection?

D. L. Medica, M. J. Hanaway, S. L. Ralston, M. V.K. Sukhdeo

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Abstract

This study was designed to determine how the behaviors of horses on a fenced-in pasture in the northeastern United States may contribute to infection by Strongylus vulgaris. The infective stages of strongylid parasites of horses develop in the feces, and they must be ingested for infection to occur. Domestic horses are thought to be coprophobic, and to avoid grazing in areas contaminated with their feces.1,2 In this study, nine Standardbred colts were observed on two pastures three times a week during two observation periods (January, 1995 and February through mid-March, 1995). Nine adult Standardbred mares and geldings were also observed on the same pastures during one observation period from April through mid-May, 1995. On each pasture, the roughs (areas of group defecation associated with long grass), lawns (short-cropped grass) and bare areas (where hay was fed in racks), were mapped. Grazing occurred equally on roughs, lawns, and bare patches of the pasture in two of the three observation periods (January and April/May). In the February/mid-March observation period, most of the grazing activity occurred on the bare areas, where hay was provided, but there was still grazing in the roughs. Defecation and urination activities occurred at similar frequencies in all areas of the pastures during all observation periods. These data suggest that horses kept at high grazing intensities will graze near feces in the roughs, and will defecate in the "grazing" areas. It was also determined that the infective larvae of S. vulgaris are attracted to horse feces, but show no responses to grass, in laboratory chemical migration assays. These data suggest that the parasites may not migrate from the feces to the grass as part of their transmission strategy as previously reported. Thus, parasite infection may be occurring when horses graze in the roughs or near feces in the lawns and bare areas, and pasture management strategies for controlling these parasites may be most effective if focused on reducing the infective larvae present on the pasture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-427
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Equine Veterinary Science
Volume16
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1996

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Equine

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