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Are Horses Grazers Or Browsers

author
Danielle Fletcher
• Saturday, 14 November, 2020
• 9 min read

Diets of feral horses in Australia have been reported to include a substantial portion of shrubs and tree foliage. Little attention has been directed at systematically listing the number and types of foliage eaten by horses in a natural setting.

horses grazing land wild pasture hd shutterstock river near fps rural footage
(Source: www.shutterstock.com)

Contents

In a presentation at the Australian Equine Science Symposium, researchers from New South Wales, Australia, described a study that will look at the time spent by horses in browsing behavior as well as the nutritional profiles and palatability of various types of tree and shrub foliage. Herbivorous animals are known to feed on plant materials as the main components of their diet.

The materials include foliage, soft shoots, leaves, trees and shrubs. A browser is a type of herbivorous animal that specializes in eating leaves, fruits of high-growing woody plants, soft shoots and shrubs.

They can also be defined as animals that mainly eat non-grasses including herbaceous divots and woody plants. A grazing animal is a herbivore that feeds on plants such as grass and other low-lying vegetation.

A browser is a herbivore that mainly feeds on leaves, fruits of high-growing woody plants, soft shoots and shrubs. Grazers, on the other hand, are animals that feed on grass, multicellular organisms like algae, and other low-lying vegetation.

Grazing animals include sheep, cattle, horses, green sea turtle, bison. Browsers main glean leaves, barks, and green stems while grazing animals clip vegetation either at or near the ground level.

horses grazing web update horse stallion rider pasture sunrise
(Source: www.horseandrideruk.com)

Each animal, be it domestic or wild belongs to a specific family, species, and other categorization levels. With most people rearing the two, it is hard to know whether such categorizations exist let alone placing each animal to the right category.

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In the ecosystem, the herbivores are usually the highest compared to the omnivores and carnivores since they are a source of food to the other animals. The major difference between grazing and browsing is in the type of vegetation that the herbivores feed on.

Examples of grazers include sheep, zebra, rabbit, cattle, giant panda, horses, wildebeests, and Barbara. An exercise of caution is important in grazing to avoid overgrazing which may result in erosion and desertification.

On the other hand, browsing is the type of feeding whereby herbivores eat high-growing plants such as leaves, the bark of trees, and shrubs among others. One advantage of the browsers is that they cannot die of hunger during snowy seasons as they can access their food; unlike in the case of grazers where the vegetation may be covered in snow.

grazing horses field depositphotos jareso
(Source: depositphotos.com)

A very long time ago every specie developed a way to feed themselves. The idea was to take things that surrounded them and eat them to create the needed energy to survive and reproduce.

Thankfully most humans don’t worry about being eaten and in this country horses are somewhat safe. We all have a tube running through us that starts at the mouth and ends at our anus.

The ruminants have won the “best in class award” because they can eat woody things called lignin. This is why you can see ruminants living in the poorest conditions and survive and often thrive.

Cellulose is found in the cell walls of all plants grown on land. Each molecule is made up of 3 different atoms: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

There are other variations and combinations of this structure that make up the other sugars such as lactose and fructose, but we want to talk about starch and cellulose. What is necessary to understand is that you and your horse can NOT break the bonds of cellulose using the enzymes we have.

shutterstock
(Source: www.shutterstock.com)

What we all have are bacteria in the colon (large bowel) that CAN break up cellulose into the individual glucose molecules. But because it is an inefficient way to get energy, the horse developed a very large hind gut and a set of teeth to continually harvest enough grass and other forms of cellulose to get the energy it needs to survive the day.

Lignin is like cellulose with the addition of an alcohol unit which the lumen bacteria break down. The ruminant then pushed this mix back up into his mouth and re-chews the material (chews the cud) and swallows it again this time bypassing the lumen and heading back for the regular digestion that is similar to the horse.

The bacteria in the gut of the horse become unhappy when simple glucose is presented to them not in cellulose form. Other bacteria start to take over and can be considered “bad” bacteria because they are very efficient in taking the starch and converting it to sugar giving the horse a high sugar diet.

Don’t the “good” bacteria break down cellulose into glucose molecules too? But simply put, starch is broken down into simple sugars killing the good bacteria and causing lots of problems in the horse including insulin resistance.

Cellulose is NOT broken down into a simple sugar but into something you will not believe (hint: it makes energy). If this article makes you want to learn more than click here to find out about this course offered by The Horse's Advocate University.

equine nutrition grazing browsing horses practice
(Source: theequinepractice.com)

Discover nutrition for horses Equine Dentistry Without Drama Your horse’s health is important to us at The Equine Practice Inc and so are their teeth so remember to call Melissa and Doc T for a dentistry appointment. That gives us the ability to compare fossil species with living ones, and be fairly confident that our comparisons make sense.

That's not to say, of course, that we can't infer quite a lot from the shape and structure of dinosaur bones, and work out details of their lifestyle and habits. Because leopards, jaguars, and sabre-tooths are, in many respects, quite similar, it's pretty likely that inferences drawn from the first two will apply to the third, unless there's some good reason to suppose otherwise.

But large mammalian herbivores tend to have two possible feeding strategies: grazing and browsing. Grazing animals, such as cows and sheep, therefore tend to have relatively broad muzzles, so that they can chomp up large clumps of grass in one go.

Leaves and so on are found in bushes and trees, not so easy to get at as grass and, crucially, mixed in with things like twigs. At the chemical level, wood is composed of a complex aromatic polymer, called lignin, that is neither carbohydrate, nor protein, nor fat, and, apart from termites, there are pretty much no members of the animal kingdom that can digest it.

Secondly, in science we want to be precise, so we need a numerical measure of the shape of the jaw that helps us decide whether a particular fossil belonged to one or the other (or both). The lower jaw in large herbivorous mammals generally includes a row of incisor teeth at the front, for clipping off plant material, followed by a long, toothless gap, and then the chewing teeth at the rear, behind the snout proper, and in a part of the head more shaped by the attachments for the jaw muscles.

horses grazing horse hard feed format subtropics blend southern depositphotos previous
(Source: depositphotos.com)

A new method, proposed by Danielle Fraser and Jessica Theodore of the University of Calgary, instead compares the width of the jaw with its depth. By 'depth', I'm referring to the distance from the tip to what would be the base of the chin on a human, but which is much further back, on the underside of the snout, in the sort of animals they're looking at.

What this means is that we can collect skulls from a range of living animals, and see how good the different measures are at predicting what they eat. Indeed, the authors conclude that, in their survey of 34 species of ruminant, the ratio of muzzle length to width was the best predictor of how the animal ate.

For example, it turns out that hartebeest (a kind of antelope) have a narrower muzzle than you would expect, bearing in mind that they are, like cattle, grazers. What we can say, however, is that, if we have a lower jaw that shows a relatively extreme shape, similar to a wildebeest (grazer) or moose (browser), for example, that we can be fairly sure what it isn't.

So we can say something about how an animal ate, without ever having to watch it feed, or examine its dung, just from the shape of its jaws and teeth. Wild herbivores have been driving and shaping the evolution and diversity of species, habitats and ecosystems in Britain for millennia.

Understanding the ecological functions of species such as elk, horse and bison is an important part of rewinding. Native breed domestic species of cattle, horses and pigs, may approximate the functional role of their wilder cousins.

horses horse herd grazing hd grass shutterstock eating tall recreational riding
(Source: www.shutterstock.com)

Rewinding projects across the country, from Knapp to Allerdale, have shown the incredible impact of herbivores on biodiversity. Unlike carnivores, herbivores don’t have to chase or trap their meal.

Herbivores have therefore evolved a variety of characteristics, and developed novel behaviors, to handle vegetation and satisfy their diet. Others still are adapted to eat plant roots, fruits, seeds, pollen, nectar, or a mixture of these.

Big herbivorous mammals have evolved different key features for eating plants like mouth shape, tooth structure, and digestive system. Animals with big wide mouths (think cow or its wild ancestor the mighty aurochs) are more suited to grazing.

Hind gut fermentation, seen in horses, is less effective but faster so more food can be consumed and processed. Animals with hind gut fermentation tend to be bulk feeders and less fussy about what they eat.

Hungry browsers nibbling the tops of saplings halt the growth of shrubs and trees. They travel long distances (and typically the bigger the animal the further it moves), transporting seeds on their shaggy fur and excreting them in their fruit-filled dung.

horse grazing depositphotos
(Source: depositphotos.com)

Herbivores can alter the playing field for plants by selectively eating some species and not others. Those species with physical and chemical defenses (an attempt to make them difficult to eat and less palatable) become more competitive when herbivores are about.

Rooting behavior, classically done by wild boar turning over the vegetation and exposing the soil while looking for roots and insects, gives new opportunities for rapid colonizers of the plant world. A varied mix of large herbivores on the land helps create that diversity of conditions.

A nervous herbivore keeping its eyes peeled for a predator is a less efficient and thorough feeder. Herbivores affect the type of habitat available and so determine which species can survive and thrive.

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Sources
1 www.nwhorsesource.com - https://www.nwhorsesource.com/managing-feeding-weanling/
2 practicalhorsemanmag.com - https://practicalhorsemanmag.com/health-archive/feeding-strategies-for-weanlings
3 www.equisearch.com - https://www.equisearch.com/discoverhorses/top-nutrition-weanlings
4 www.thewayofhorses.com - http://www.thewayofhorses.com/0409_weanling.html