Horse welfare and natural values on semi-natural and extensive pastures in Finland: Synergies and trade-offs
Saastamoinen, Markku; Herzon, Iryna; Särkijärvi, Susanna; Schreurs, Catherine; Myllymäki, Marianna (2017)
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In several regions in Europe, the horse is becoming a common grazer on semi-natural and cultivated grasslands, though the pasturing benefits for animals and biodiversity alike are not universally appreciated. The composition of ground vegetation on pastures determines the value of both the forage for grazing animals as well as the biodiversity values for species associated with the pastoral ecosystems. We studied three pastures, each representing one of the management types in southern Finland (latitudes 60–61): semi-natural, permanent and cultivated grassland. All have been grazed exclusively by horses for several decades. We aimed to evaluate feeding values and horses’ welfare, on the one hand, and impacts of horses on biodiversity in boreal conditions, on the other. Though there were differences among the pastures, the nutritional value of the vegetation in all three pastures met the energy and protein needs of most horse categories through the whole grazing season. Some mineral concentrations were low compared to the requirements, and supplementation of Cu, Zn and Na is needed to balance the mineral intake. Only minor injuries or health problems were observed. All metrics of biological values, as well as number of species eaten by horses, were particularly high in a semi-natural pasture compared to other pasture types. The highest ratio of species cover preferred by horses to the total cover was found in the permanent pasture, while at the regularly re-seeded pasture, there was a particularly high cover of species, indicating low biodiversity values on grassland. There was, therefore, a trade-off between the quantity of forage and biological values in pastures, but not in quality. The results provide clear indication both for the suitability of the studied pasture types to horses and for grazing of horses for biodiversity management. In each pasture type, specific management is needed to simultaneously achieve objectives of adequate pasturing and biodiversity. The short duration (only one grazing season) must be considered when applying the results.
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