Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2013

Abstract

Horses are often kept in individual stables, rather than in outdoor groups, despite such housing system fulfilling many of their welfare needs, such as the access to social partners. Keeping domestic stallions in outdoor groups would mimic bachelor bands that are found in the wild. Unfortunately, the high level of aggression that unfamiliar stallions display when they first encounter each other discourages owners from keeping them in groups. However, this level of aggression is likely to be particularly important only during group integration, when the dominance hierarchy is being established, whereas relatively low aggression rates have been observed among stable feral bachelor bands. We investigated the possibility of housing breeding stallions owned by the Swiss National Stud in groups on a large pasture (5 stallions in 2009 and 8 stallions in 2010). We studied the pattern of agonistic, ritual and affiliative interactions after group integration (17–23 days), and the factors influencing these interactions (time after group integration, dominance rank, age or experience of group housing). We found that stallions displayed generally more ritual than agonistic and than affiliative interactions. The frequency of agonistic and ritual interactions decreased quickly within the first three to four days. The frequency of affiliative interactions increased slowly with time before decreasing after 9–14 days. A stable hierarchy could be measured after 2–3 months. The highest-ranking males had less ritual interactions than the lowest-ranking. Males had also less agonistic, ritual and affiliative interactions if they had already been housed in a group the previous year. Therefore, we found that breeding stallions could be housed together on a large pasture, because the frequency of agonistic interactions decreased quickly and remained at a minimal level from the fourth day following group integration. This housing system could potentially increase horse welfare and reduce labour associated with horse management.

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