Gomes Correa, M., Ferreira Rodrigues e Silva, C., Antunes Dias, L. et al. 2020. Welfare benefits after the implementation of slow-feeder hay bags for stabled horses. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 38, 61-66.
Horse confinement is a common practice worldwide. However, preventing horses from grazing and denying them social interaction can compromise their welfare and lead to undesirable consequences. Considering the hypothesis that increasing the forage consumption time can lead to improved welfare, the objective of this study was to verify the effect of the implementation of a slow-feeder hay bag on the ethogram, motor activity, heart rate, and cortisol circadian rhythm (CCR) of stabled horses. Seven healthy horses were kept exclusively in individual stalls and fed pelleted feed, alfalfa hay, and Tifton hay. Horses were evaluated before the experiment and for 10 days foraging through a slow-feeder hay bag. The horses were monitored for 24 hours for ethogram and forage consumption time evaluations. The CCR was calculated by the percentage variance between the morning and afternoon serum concentration. A variation of 30% or less was indicative of poor welfare. The effect of time over the variables was verified by paired Student's t or Student-Newman-Keuls tests (P < 0.05). The inclusion of hay bags increased the alfalfa ingestion time by 87% (P = 0.006). At the end of the study, coprophagia stopped in three of four horses and the mean (±SD) time spent performing abnormal behaviors decreased from 130.6 (±168.8) to 86 (±140) min (P = 0.02). The mean CCR variation increased from 26% (±24) to 58% (±9) (P = 0.006), with an incidence of four horses with abnormal CCR at the baseline and none at the end of the experiment. The motor activity was reduced from 574 (±126) to 306 (±167) steps per day (P = 0.05) and the heart rate did not vary. In conclusion, the adoption of a slow-feeder bag, an available and low-cost device, was effective in improving the welfare of stabled horses.