Do you wonder if horses are ruminants? No – horses are not ruminants! They do not have the necessary forestomach. Nevertheless, their chewing behavior is similar to that of cows. Why is this so? Where are the similarities and where are the differences? In this article, you will learn more about this and get valuable tips on feeding.
Herbivore food contains a lot of fiber – and it is quite difficult to digest. Herbivores have therefore developed different strategies to optimally process their food. On the one hand, there are ruminants (cattle, goats, sheep, antelopes, etc.). They don’t take much time when eating and first eat everything inside themselves. The coarsely chopped food first passes through the rumen, then the reticulum and the leafy stomach. Later, however, during a resting phase and in a protected place, the animals regurgitate it. With evenly rhythmic chewing movements, they crush it thoroughly before it ends up in the fourth and final stomach.
Horses, on the other hand, are not ruminants. They have only one stomach and have to chew their food properly as soon as they eat it. Their chewing behavior when eating can therefore be described in a similar way to that of cows when chewing again: They do not gulp anything down, but grind up the plant fibers with rhythmic, even chewing strokes. Forage made from raw fibers is the most important basis for the horses’ diet. The animals draw strength and energy from the carbohydrates it contains.
Raw Fiber Feed Includes:
- Silage (fermented fodder from the silo)
- Pasture grass
You can learn more about proper feeding and nutrition in our guide on the subject.
Wouldn’t Horses Be Better Served As Ruminants?
Researchers at the University of Zurich asked themselves similar questions and compared the chewing behavior of cows, horses, and Bactrian camels (a type of camel) in a scientific study.
For this purpose, they used a kind of chewing halter, with the help of which they could measure and directly compare the chewing movements of the animals. In fact, they found that horses, as ruminants, had a certain advantage. When they eat, soil, sand, and other particles get into the feed, which damages the teeth during chewing. The ruminant swallows these and rinses them out in one of the forestomachs so that the teeth hardly come into contact with them. The horse, on the other hand, immediately chews everything thoroughly and thus has significantly higher tooth wear.
Nevertheless, Mother Nature has also made good provisions for horses. Their teeth are longer than those of ruminants and grow back throughout their lives, so that abrasion is compensated for to some extent. As far as the comminution of food is concerned, the horse has acquired the advantages of ruminant chewing. It just applies this technique right away when eating.
In this article, you can read about the types of feed available for horses and what you should look out for when choosing. The use of nutritional supplements is also discussed there.
What Does Rumination Have To Do With Evolution?
Ruminating is a highly efficient method of utilizing plant food that occurs several times in the animal kingdom. The different groups of ruminants are not necessarily related to each other. Rather, they have independently developed the same form of food intake in the course of evolution. In fact, ruminating has two other advantages in addition to being easy on the teeth:
- Optimal processing of plant fibers and utilization of dietary fiber for energy production
- Avoidance of enemies by accelerating the feeding process
The first point has enabled animals to adapt to barren living conditions. Camels, for example, can feed on hard, fibrous, and even thorny plant material. To utilize this food, they are busy chewing their cud for up to eight hours a day.
The second point mitigates the threat of predators. For example, deer or antelope have to leave their cover to graze. So the faster they gulp down the food, the higher their chance of not falling victim to a predator. The actual processing of the plant food then takes place in peace in a safe place.
But Why Are Horses Not Ruminants?
With them, evolution has obviously solved the problem differently. With the help of microorganisms in their digestive tract, they too are able to utilize roughage containing cellulose. As for enemy avoidance, horses are simply great escape animals and can usually get away in time.
If Horses Are Not Ruminants – How Does Their Digestion Work?
Horses do not have a forestomach. Thus, horses are not ruminants. On the other hand, they have a particularly complex large intestine in which the actual fermentation of the ingested plant food takes place.
The stomach of a large horse holds about 10-15 liters. In the glandless area of the organ, the feed mush is processed by microorganisms and plant enzymes. Pre-digestion of easily available fats, proteins, and carbohydrates takes place. Only in the next stage does gastric juice come into play. This contains hydrochloric acid to kill bacteria and pepsin to break down proteins. Both are indispensable for the utilization of the ingested food.
Unlike humans, horses produce gastric acid not only when needed, but constantly. Nature has arranged it this way because horses are not ruminants, but steppe animals that consume fiber-rich grass throughout the day. In order for the acid to be consistently broken down, roughage such as hay and grass is absolutely indispensable for horses. It must be accessible to the animals around the clock so that there are no overly long breaks in feeding. Feeding errors such as too much concentrated feed or inadequate feed quality can lead to serious acidosis. Product recommendations for high-quality horse feed from Cavalor can be found in this guide.
Horses are not ruminants. However, when they eat, they use a similar chewing technique to that used by ruminants. The complex digestive system of horses allows for the utilization of cellulose and other plant fibers. If the delicate balance between acid production, the body’s own protective mechanisms, and acid consumption in the stomach is disturbed, colic, stomach ulcers, and other serious illnesses can result. With the right feeding, however, you can effectively prevent this. Regardless of this specific problem, you should always take out horse insurance when buying a horse.