The Correct Answer for This Month's Behavior of the Month
Ingestion of feces is normally common in foals, and much less common in adult horses. Observational studies indicate that foals most often ingest, and may show a preference for, the feces of their dam. In adult horses, coprophagy is interpreted as a sign of nutritional deficiency or severe deprivation of more appropriate forage.
Coprophagy is so common in foals from about 3 weeks to 3 months of age that biologists expect that it must serve a useful function. Hypotheses yet to be tested include:
· Coproghagy may serve to populate the young gut with “good” bacteria
· Coprophagy may serve to “ immunize” the neonate against local parasites
· Coprophagy may serve to strengthen the social bond of mother and foal
An early reference on coprophagy in foals can be found in Crowell-Davis SL, Caudle AB 1989. Coprophagy by foals: recognition of maternal feces. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 24: 267-262.