Voluntary intake and digestibility in horses: effect of forage quality with emphasis on individual variability

Edouard, N., Fleurance, G., Martin-Rosset, W., Duncan, P., Dulphy, J.P., Grange, S., Baumont, R., Dubroeucq, H., Pérez-Barbería, F.J., and Gordon, I.J. (2008) Voluntary intake and digestibility in horses: effect of forage quality with emphasis on individual variability. Animal, 2 (10). pp. 1526-1533.

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Food intake is a key biological process in animals, as it determines the energy and nutrients available for the physiological and behavioural processes. In herbivores, the abundance, structure and quality of plant resources are known to influence intake strongly. In ruminants, as the forage quality declines, digestibility and total intake decline. Equids are believed to be adapted to consume high-fibre low-quality forages. As hindgut fermenters, it has been suggested that their response to a reduction in food quality is to increase intake to maintain rates of energy and nutrient absorption. All reviews of horse nutrition show that digestibility declines with forage quality; for intake, however most studies have found no significant relationship with forage quality, and it has even been suggested that horses may eat less with declining forage quality similarly to ruminants. A weakness of these reviews is to combine data from different studies in meta-analyses without allowing the differences between animals and diets to be controlled for In this study, we analysed a set of 45 trials where intake and digestibility were measured in 21 saddle horses. The dataset was analysed both at the group (to allow comparisons with the literature) and at the individual levels (to control for individual variability). As expected, dry matter digestibility declined with forage quality in both analyses. Intake declined slightly with increasing fibre contents at the group level, and there were no effects of crude protein or dry matter digestibility on intake. Overall, the analysis for individual horses showed a different pattern: intake increased as digestibility and crude protein declined, and increased with increasing fibre. Our analysis at the group level confirms previous reviews and shows that forage quality explains little of the variance in food intake in horses. For the first time, using mixed models, we show that the variable 'individual' clarifies the picture, as the horses showed different responses to a decrease in forage quality: some compensated for the low nutritional value of the forages by increasing intake, few others responded by decreasing intake with declining forage quality but not enough to cause any deficit in their energy and protein supplies. On the whole, all the animals managed to meet their maintenance requirements. The individual variability may be a by-product of artificial selection for performance in competition in saddle horses.

Item ID: 42544
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1751-732X
Keywords: horses, intake, digestibility, forage quality, individual variability
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2016 07:43
FoR Codes: 07 AGRICULTURAL AND VETERINARY SCIENCES > 0702 Animal Production > 070204 Animal Nutrition @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060201 Behavioural Ecology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 83 ANIMAL PRODUCTION AND ANIMAL PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 8303 Livestock Raising > 830306 Horses @ 50%
83 ANIMAL PRODUCTION AND ANIMAL PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 8304 Pasture, Browse and Fodder Crops > 830499 Pasture, Browse and Fodder Crops not elsewhere classified @ 50%
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