Barn Beavers
 By Winniefield Park   •   7th Mar 2016   •   1,387 views   •   0 comments

If youíve ever admired the decorative scallops in wooden fences and stall partitions, or noticed cleverly de-barked rings around trees in a pasture, youíll be witnessing the work of barn beavers. A barn beaver isnít a huge rodent with large front teeth and a flat tail that swim in ponds, but rather a horse, that for one reason or another decides to chew any wooden object it comes across, from hedges to fences. In veterinary medicine, this is called lignophagia.

Barn beavers can be a hazard to themselves, the property they live on and other horses. The reasons barn beavers exist boil down to three basic issues: nutritional deficiencies, stress, and habit.

Horses are programmed to spend a lot of time chewing. An average horse spends over half of its life eating. Its small stomach must receive relatively small amounts of food over long periods of time for its digestive system to function well. Deprived of the chance to satisfy the need to graze and chew grass or other suitable fodder, a horse will turn to other things, like its stall door, or the nearest tree. Horses that are kept in small spaces like a stall or paddock, and not provided with adequate fodder and exercise are most prone to becoming barn beavers.

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Sometimes, there is plenty of food available, but it is lacking in some sort of nutrient. When this happens horses can develop something called pica or geophagia, and start sampling all sorts of things to satisfy the nutritional deficiency. In addition to wood, horses may lick soil, chew or lick wood, tack or gear such as blankets, eat manure (coprophagia) or chew any other surface or item it comes across. Fences and trees may seem like a natural source to turn to for the nutrients the horse needs.

Once a horse becomes a barn beaver, the habit can be hard to break even if the original reason they started is long past. They may also learn the habit from other horses.

Barn beavers can cause a lot of damage - damage that can effect other horses who are contained behind weakened fences and splintered stall boards. And in addition to the property damage that can result when barn beavers go to work, the behavior can have dire consequences for the horse. If a horse ingests enough wood chips colic can occur. Splinters can cause problems if they become embedded in the horseís mouth and digestive system. And, there is a chance a horse could sample a type of wood that is toxic, although anyone who manages a stable should already be aware of any toxic trees and make sure they are not within reach of a curious or hungry horse.

So, if you see that your horse is showing signs of becoming a barn beaver, what should you do? First of all, make sure your horse, if at all possible, gets lots of turnout time. Lots of small meals of hay is better than one big one that is eaten quickly, leaving the horse wondering what to do next. Ideally, we should try to accommodate a horseís need for all day grazing and movement. Horses need a source of salt, either mixed into their feed, or provided free choice. Water too is important so your horse can digest all it eats properly. Any nutritional deficiencies can easily be discovered with a blood sample. This saves over or under-supplementing and possibly creating other imbalances.

As a last resort, for a habitual chewer, there are bitter sprays and potions you can smear on fences and other surfaces. But, the best solution is to find the root cause. Even small changes to your horseís routine or nutrition can make barn beavers disappear for good.
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