Melvin, M. V., Costello, E., Colpoys, J. D. 2020. Enclosed versus ring feeders: Effects of round-bale feeder type on horse behavior and welfare. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 39, 41-46.
In an effort to minimize the amount of hay wasted from a round bale, horse owners generally surround the bale with a round-bale feeder. While often necessary as a supplemental feed source, this feeding technique restricts the space each horse has to feed, altering a horse's natural eating behavior. The objective of this study was to evaluate the influence of the round-bale feeder type on stress, agonistic behaviors, and horse preference of feeder types. Two feeder treatments were evaluated: (1) round bale surrounded by a ring feeder (ring feeder; B&W Farm and Ranch, Humboldt, KS) and (2) round bale covered by an enclosed bale feeder (enclosed feeder; Hayhuts LLC, Palm Coast, FL). Two horse herds (n = 5 horses per herd) were evaluated using a crossover experimental design, where each herd received each treatment for one week to evaluate behavior and cortisol concentrations. After this, each herd had access to both feeder treatments at the same time to evaluate preference. Feeding horses with the enclosed feeder resulted in fewer total agonistic threats (P < 0.0001) and less total avoidance behavior (P = 0.0007) compared with the ring feeder. No differences in total aggressive behavior (P = 0.655), total time spent eating (P = 0.088), or cortisol concentrations (P = 0.219) were observed between treatments. During preference testing, horses spent more time eating at the enclosed feeder than at the ring feeder (P < 0.0001). Although there was no indication that horses fed through the ring feeder had poor welfare, horses showed a preference toward the enclosed feeder. Thus, the enclosed feeder may be beneficial for improving horse welfare by providing horses with a resource they prefer and reducing distress experienced by horses while eating.