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Strategies for Reducing the Environmental Impact of Horse-Keeping

The space in nature that horses occupy (and require for their mental and physical health) provides a great opportunity to benefit the environment. While some elements of equine care can conflict with common green practices, mindful efforts to reduce environmental impact are great steps in the right direction!

1: Pasture Management

Good pasture management not only provides better quality pasture for your horses but can also have environmental benefits such as sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and promoting soil quality. As horse pastures are less intensively managed than pastures used for other livestock, these spaces provide an opportunity for diverse grasslands. Plant diversity can better soil quality, while also providing a rich ecosystem for native plant, insect, and wildlife species.

Unfortunately, poor pasture management such as allowing overgrazing, high stocking density, and soil trampling can be detrimental to pasture growth and soil quality, while contributing to nutrient runoff. Nitrogen runoff from manure is a major environmental concern when it comes to horse facilities, contributing to increased greenhouse gas emissions and the potential for water pollution.

Strategies such as using a sacrifice area during wet conditions, rotating pastures to prevent overgrazing, and controlling weeds can help promote pasture health and maintain soil quality. Low stocking densities (ie, more space per horse in a field) can reduce nitrogen runoff, but when that is not available (ie, due to land availability), removing manure from the field can also help!

2: Repurpose durable plastics

Plastic is everywhere, and the equine industry is no different. It’s not uncommon for supplements to come in thick plastic containers - this is to ensure that the product stays air-tight, out of light and secure through transport and storage, delivering a product that is fresh and stable. More durable containers also require less padding on transport, meaning less weight on transport, and potentially lower fuel consumption. Unfortunately, this can yield a surplus of plastic containers as the next month’s worth of supplements arrive at the barn in yet another plastic container.

Due to concerns of storage losses, buying products in bulk is also not feasible for those with only a few horses on the product. Some supplement brands and feed manufacturers have begun using packaging that is made from recycled material/minimizes plastic use, or have begun selling “refill” pouches to reduce the build up of bulky plastic containers! These offer practical solutions to balancing optimal product handling and reducing plastic use.

For those with an ever-growing bucket collection, finding ways to repurpose these items is a useful strategy to give the plastic more use! As supplement containers are meant to be durable and often resealable, they can be useful for boot or bandage storage, transporting smaller rations (i.e. taking feed to horse shows) and bath buckets.

Only 9% of plastic is recycled in Canada, despite over 3 million tonnes of plastic waste reported every year - with more plastic produced all the while. Ideally, plastic would have a circular life cycle, but with low recycling rates and continuous production, far more attention is required to accomplish this. Repurposing plastic is not the ultimate “zero waste” solution, but it can help give these plastics a longer useful life.

3. Precision Nutrition

Precision nutrition is very prevalent in agriculture and food production industries, however, in the equine industry, rations tend to be fed with less accuracy. Resource efficiency is critical with global food security concerns, so the equine industry must look to more sustainable practices.

Similar to trends observed in pets, there has been an increase in equine obesity, suggesting nutritional resources are being used excessively where they are not required. The integration of emerging mathematical models into modern equine nutrition may help represent equine energy requirements more accurately. Such models can accurately assign metabolic efficiency status to horses to provide recommended dietary energy intake required to maintain an ideal body condition score based upon that individual’s metabolic tendencies (and are built into the fully customized nutrition program we at Honos Nutrition designed for ration formulation).

When in excess, some nutrients and their metabolites are just excreted into the environment, and as some nutrients also compete for absorption, more is not better! Excess protein is excreted as urea, while excess minerals (ie, phosphorus) are excreted in urine into the environment, with potential detriment to soil and water quality. Evaluation of your horse’s diet and feed composition can ensure your horse’s requirements are being met efficiently.

Choosing feedstuffs with organic/chelated trace minerals is a great strategy in this regard! These minerals have better bioavailability, so can be provided in smaller amounts, limiting the environmental impact caused by excessive excretion!

Efficient feeding means providing sufficient dietary energy, without over- or under-supplying, and maximizing feed utilization to reduce nutrient loss in waste, and the environmental impact of that waste.

Sustainability: avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain ecological balance

By improving pasture management, repurposing what we can, and incorporating precision feeding, we can minimize the negative environmental impact associated with horse-keeping.



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