Nutritional analysis of gastric contents and body condition score at a single time point in feral horses in Australia.
Objective - To determine the impact of a free-choice diet on nutritional intake and body condition of feral horses. Animals - Cadavers of 41 feral horses from 5 Australian locations. Procedures - Body condition score (BCS) was determined (scale of 1 to 9), and the stomach was removed from horses during postmortem examination. Stomach contents were analyzed for nutritional variables and macroelement and microelement concentrations. Data were compared among the locations and also compared with recommended daily intakes for horses. Results - Mean BCS varied by location; all horses were judged to be moderately thin. The BCS for males was 1 to 3 points higher than that of females. Amount of protein in the stomach contents varied from 4.3% to 14.9% and was significantly associated with BCS. Amounts of water-soluble carbohydrate and ethanol-soluble carbohydrate in stomach contents of feral horses from all 5 locations were higher than those expected for horses eating high-quality forage. Some macroelement and microelement concentrations were grossly excessive, whereas others were grossly deficient. There was no evidence of ill health among the horses. Conclusions and Clinical Relevance - Results suggested that the diet for several populations of feral horses in Australia appeared less than optimal. However, neither low BCS nor trace mineral deficiency appeared to affect survival of the horses. Additional studies on food sources in these regions, including analysis of water-soluble carbohydrate, ethanol-soluble carbohydrate, and mineral concentrations, are warranted to determine the provenance of such rich sources of nutrients. Determination of the optimal diet for horses may need revision.