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Fertilizer Use Impacts Forage Preference Among HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · February 1, 2017

Poultry litter disposal represents a pressing concern, especially when considering the burgeoning population of poultry worldwide. One solution involves using litter in lieu of expensive commercial fertilizers on fields designated for forage production. Litter adds a full complement of nutrients to the soil, unlike chemical fertilizers that typically consist of just nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash.

What does poultry litter have to do with horses, you ask?

“Previous studies demonstrated that heifers, ewe lambs, and doe kids readily consume composted poultry litter. The palates of horses, however, tend to be a bit pickier than other livestock, making it unclear if horses will readily consume forage from pastures fertilized with poultry litter,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

After offering horses various cuttings of bermudagrass and teff hay either with or without poultry litter fertilization, one group of researchers* found that the horses in the study preferred bermudagrass over teff hay and preferred forages that were not fertilized with poultry litter.

The study authors added, though, that horses consumed the forages fertilized with poultry litter, especially if the litter was applied to the fields early or immediately after the first cutting and before the next. The least favorite forages were those in which litter was spread 14 days after a cutting was taken. It appears the longer the litter had time to decompose, the better the palatability.

Crandell added, “This research also clearly shows that the fear of any sanitation concerns with the use of poultry litter as a fertilizer for hay fed to horses is unfounded since none of the horses in the study had any health issues as a result.”

*Clark, J.K., B.C. Shanks, K.S. Jogan, et al. 2016. Effects of forage species and poultry litter application timing on forage preference by horses. Journal of Animal Science. 94(12):4985-4992.