Why Do Horses Chew Wood and Fencing?
- What I learned when researching this article was that the “nutritional deficiency” reason for eating barns and fencing really doesn’t apply here. It’s more like a desire for roughage, not vitamins and minerals. A small distinction, but a distinction nonetheless.
Is cribbing the same as wood chewing?
- They may look the same on the surface, but there are a few differences. Cribbing involves a horse catching a surface, like a fence, with his upper teeth. He will pull back as he inhales a gulp of air. You will notice his neck arch, and you may even hear the sound of wind. Sometimes pieces of wood will chip off, but the cribbing horse isn’t actually eating the wood.
A horse that cribs will hook his front teeth on a fence or bucket or trough and pull backwards, often inhaling air.
Why wood chewing is a problem.
- Aside from the obvious destruction and expenses that wood chewing can cause, wood chunks and splinters pose a few problems for your horse.
- Barns and fencing are indigestible! It look like fiber, but it’s not. It’s also time consuming and expensive to repair barns and fences.
- Splinters can get lodged inside your horse anywhere from your horse’s rooter to his tooter. I’m not sure how I should expand upon this, except to say it’s quite bad. A lucky horse would have a splinter that could be reached by a Vet. For the other hundred or so feet of digestive system, not so lucky.
- Enteroliths. These creepy sounding things are mineral stones in a horse’s gut. It’s hard to find one without doing surgery, which is often when they are discovered. I’ve seen a few that are like pebbles, and a few that are like grapefruits or larger. There may be a change a chunk of wood can be the start of an enterolith. Over time, your horse’s body lays down layer upon layer of minerals, creating a stone.
- Is this a learned behavior? No one seems to know for sure. If there’s a wood eater at the barn, he may inspire his neighbors to try out this new snack. Or, his neighbors have the same diet and lifestyle and decide that eating the fencing is a great idea.
So. Many. Splinters.
Why horses will chew on wood.
Boredom seems to be one of the most popular reasons cited for chewing wood.
- It’s logical, as well. Wood seems to be the chewing gum equivalent for horses. Are stalled horses more likely to eat their barn? Maybe?
Is stress a factor?
- There’s one horse at my boarding barn that has 12 hours of hay in a slow feeder in a large paddock, and the other 12 hours are spent with a buddy in a lush pasture. He has decided to sample each and every board, despite having so many healthy alternatives. However, he did have his buddy swapped out for another. The first weeks of that transition created a lot of fence repair work. Now that the two of them have defined their relationship a bit more, the fence eating has faded. Disclaimer – this paragraph is not science. It’s a story.
- There’s a bit of rumbling among Nutritionists and researchers that hindgut acidosis and wood chewing are related. When a horse’s digestive tract is hit with dense quantities of starches and sugars, this can create a change in the pH of the hindgut. Not only is this a possible trigger for laminitis, colic, and going off feed, it can trigger vices. Wood chewing is one possible vice! For much more on hindgut acidosis, read this page turner!
Not enough fiber, need for more roughage.
- What seems to be the most appropriate and widely agreed upon reason for wood chewing is the need for fiber. Roughage. Long stem things to eat.
- Sure, pasture is great. Sure, pasture is romantic. And green. And photogenic. But it’s also mostly water! There’s not a lot of roughage to pasture, which may leave some horses looking for more.
- There is preliminary evidence to suggest that wood chewing tendencies increase in colder weather. Presumably, a horse knows that eating more roughage will keep the internal heat on, and he needs it any way he can get it.
How is this delicious?
Solutions for the wood chewing horse.
- Take a hard look at your horse’s diet. I’ll never not recommend a legit Equine Nutritionist to help you here. There are too many moving parts and essential ingredients and variables for the one-size-fits-all model of horse feeding.
- Specifically, take a look at how much long stem roughage your horse receives. Your wood eater and barn remodeler may just need some more long stem snacks. Ideally, these snacks are in a slow feeder set up, so the snacks last longer.
- You may also talk to your Nutritionist about using a lesser quality and less calorically dense hay to fill in the gaps. While it pains me to type that sentence, many horses are overweight and more long stem forage is going to go right to their bellies. Steaming and soaking this hay will reduce dust, and soaking it reduces dust and sugars if your horse needs to avoid starches and laminitis inducing things.
- This also means you will need to make up for lost vitamins and minerals with supplements and/or a ration balancer. Sometimes, these horse feeds that come in buckets and bags pack a load of calories. The *ahem* portly horse could benefit from a lower calorie version.
- HIndgut buffering agents like EquiShure can help mitigate any potential hindgut acidosis issues your horse may have. This is a place to loop in your Vet, also, so that you can evaluate your particular horse, his fecal pH, and his risk factors for laminitis that may stem from hindgut disturbances. This is not a place to read an article and spend some money – you will save in the long run by getting your vet involved.
Exercise and lifestyle considerations for the wood chewing horse.
- Perhaps it’s time to get your horse’s butt in gear a bit? Having a regular outlet for exercise often helps to squash the horse’s needs to practice their particular vice.
- Is a change of scenery or a change in pasture buddies going to help? I’ve known plenty of horses that are particular about where they are turned out in addition to who they are turned out with.
- While grazing muzzles are designed to be a slow feeder for pasture and grass, they have the added bonus that no horse can grab some fence or tree to eat when they are wearing one. Food for thought.
This very special GG Equine Halter and Muzzle works wonder for diets and to stop wood chewing.
- Chicken wire works as a great deterrent. Wrap some of this readily available, inexpensive, and easy to maneuver stuff for fence posts and trees that get gnawed on.
- Hot wire fencing on top of the wood fencing is one of the best ways to stop a horse from eating every piece of wood on the property. And for the nay-sayers out there, the pop from an electric fence is not as much as a static shock from merely existing in dry conditions. The other bonuses of hot fencing? No legs and necks through the boards. No splinters in butts. No popped rails from rubbing along them. It’s just safer for your horse and your fencing to be a bit zappy.
- Topical deterrents are another way to deal with chewed-up wood. These work much better in small spaces, like stalls and sheds. There’s just so much fencing. They can be pastes, sprays, capsaicin-based, or soap. Many have capsaicin as an ingredient, just like hot sauce. It will stain your horse and it will test at shows. The downside is that the rain will also wash them away. A bar of soap is a great alternative for small areas.
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The best muzzle in the land – order one here! Also in raspberry and black colors.
You can’t go wrong with a small hole slow feeder.
Hindgut buffing at it’s best! One of these tubs lasts quite a while.
Another slow feeding option.
This paste will discourage wood chewing and cribbing.
This spray will also discourage wood chewing and cribbing.