Strange Diet



Strange Diet

Why do horses eat dirt? There is a place that I drive by on the way home from work where two horses are eating a big deep hole in the ground. It is several inches deep and a couple of feet wide, and it is right near a hay bunk. Even when there is hay in the rack, they eat the dirt. They scratch in the dirt with their hooves and teeth, and their muzzles, teeth, and tongues get all muddy and gritty. The other day it looked like one was bullying the other one away as if it was guarding the hole in the ground.

Carlos, Pennsylvania

I have seen what you are describing, and it sure does look weird. In every case I have seen where a big hole developed, the horses were eating soil exactly where a salt or mineral block had been. No doubt a fair amount of salt or mineral dissolves with weather and is deposited in the soil around the block. These supplements are attractive to animals, enough that one horse will guard the hole from another as you describe.

People often put the supplement blocks near a hay rack, so I'll bet that's the case. In one instance, I remember horses eating away a pit into the soil in a field where the block had been there at least a year before the horses were put into the field. When the horses arrived, they apparently found the salty soil on their own. It was just a bare spot where grass had not grown. So in that case, it wasn't out of old habit or experience with the salt block itself.

I also once watched some horses eat an entire old wooden mineral feeding trough in a cattle pasture where they had been turned out years after the cattle and the mineral supplement were gone.