Many working equines in the developing world are suffering in a chronic state of malnutrition. Not only does this cause tremendous suffering, but it can lead to death, which will cause economic devastation for the very poor owners who depend on them and are already living in poverty.
Appropriate feeding is a vital component of animal welfare. Malnutrition of working equine animals in developing countries is common, due to lack of knowledge, cost constraints and unavailability of adequate uncontaminated feedstuffs. Improper feeding can result in higher susceptibility to diseases, potentially the animals' ability to work, as well as their life span.
Malnutrition is one of Brooke's primary challenges in many areas where we work. When an animal fails to receive the nutrients it needs from its diet, its suffering is increased, it loses body condition, becomes underweight, lacks energy, and is unable to perform its work effectively, and will likely die prematurely - any of which will also adversely affect the poor families who need a healthy working partner to help them earn a living.
Working equines in rural areas experience the same gastric energy use after activity as do equines who are used for sports competitions. However, unlike sport animals, working equines do not regain their energies as easily because of the inappropriate diet that they have available and the lack of nutritional supplements that are available to them for economic reasons. Therefore, we look for local nutritional alternatives that can meet the need and which are also low-cost and easy to find to assure sustainability.
Using Equine Welfare Associations to Improve Equine Nutrition
In many poor regions around the world, Brooke encourages and facilitates the formation of local equine welfare groups and associations among equine owners. The regional associations (usually 10-12 smaller community equine welfare groups) are tremendously helpful in improving the welfare of the animals in those communities and beyond, while helping the owners as well.
These welfare associations are encouraged to buy feed in bulk at a cost savings to each member. The group members are also encouraged to pool their limited resources to create emergency savings to help in the event of an animal becoming sick or injured.
Manpur village, Uttar Pradesh, India
Brooke India developed a software package in conjunction with nutritional scientists that aimed to: 1) assess the nutritional needs of working equids according to body weight and work type, and 2) identify how these could be met with locally available ingredients using local feeding practices.
This resulted in a new balanced feed formulation utilizing locally sourced ingredients.
A pilot project was then developed for some of the working equines in Manpur village in which owners fed the new feed formulation for four weeks. Owners described their animals as more alert, having a higher quality coat, overall improved health and having an increased ability to cope with their daily work. All owners adopted the new feed formulation as they found that the formulation was cheaper than what they had been feeding, but also more nutritious for their animals.
Seeing the positive impact of this feed formulation, the pilot project expanded to include 12 villages, and now more owners are using the feed. This group of satisfied owners will be a good source of exposure for this new feed formulation for many surrounding districts.