Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wood-Chewing Beavers on the Loose

Do you have beavers in your midst? Do you leave for work in the morning and come home to find that the horses nearly escaped because some dang beaver chewed the wood fence? No sooner do you replace the chewed wood panel and paint the new one, only to have it destroyed within days?

I was very fortunate to keep my wood fence intact for many years despite having two beavers -- I mean horses. However, once I brought home the third horse, all that good luck hightailed it out of town. Gabbrielle made friends with my other two horses by showing them how to swirl their noses in water and blow air bubbles. I thought the mimicry of the water play was cute until she led them over to the fence and showed them how to chew wood. Any time that you buy a wood chewing horse, the horse ends up being a lot more expensive than what you paid for it.

At first I tried to keep the horses off the fence by using various bad tasting sprays and paints, but none of them deterred my horses. I remember busily spraying the fence with McNasty and overhearing a construction worker next door say to his buddy, "That won't do any good. That doesn't teach the horse nothin'."

Since the sprays and paints weren't working, I decided to scare the horses away from the fence every time I caught them chewing on it by chucking a rock at the fence and making a BANG! Sure enough, the horses ran for the hills. It only worked when I was around to catch them in the act, and only until they became desensitized to the rock hitting the fence. Now they just stare at me while I throw rocks, and then they get bored with it all and return to chewing the wood.

I then tied plastic grocery bags to the fence posts. Each time a horse approached the fence to chew the wood, a breeze rattled the bags and scared the horse off. I think that technique worked for about a week, and then the horses began ripping the bags off the fence and shaking them around with their teeth. I didn't want them to swallow the plastic, so I had to remove all the bags.

Some people wrap aluminum around the top of each fence panel and nail it in, but that is sharp and a horse can bend it up with its lips and teeth in order to reach the wood. Other people install an electric wire over the top of the wood panel, which I was willing to try as long as it was solar powered, however my husband didn't feel comfortable zapping our horses with electricity. I assured him that I myself have touched hot wires, and they are harmless, but he was still worried about the birds and other little creatures. We decided to try something different and installed chicken wire along the length of the wood fence using U-shaped nails.

The chicken wire turned out the be effective in preventing the horses from chewing the wood with two exceptions:
1. My husband wanted to leave it off the bottom panel so that we could duck in and out under the fence when we didn't have the time to go through the gates. As a result, the horses still chew and break the bottom panels of wood.
2. The chicken wire is only on one side of the fence, so if a horse is penned on the other side, it can still chew the wood on all panels.

I researched the Internet for other ideas. I didn't agree with most of the reasons that people claim that horses chew wood. Some said it is a mineral deficiency or a need for roughage, and we have to feed them more hay. If you feed a horse hay all day, it might be busy enough to not chew the fence, but you could end up with a fat, colicky horse and a thin wallet, unless you feed free choice straight grass with no alfalfa and very little grain. Others said that horses chew wood because they are nervous. My horses look totally relaxed when they chew wood. Others said that horses chew wood because they like the smell. I, personally, think that horses chew wood either because they are bored, or because they are trying to remove an obstacle that is in the way of their destination. If a horse wants to be with its friend, it will chew the fence to get to its friend. If a horse wants to get to grass, it will chew the fence to get to the grass.

Come late spring and summer, I will be able to put the horses out to pasture with the vinyl fencing for a few hours a day, and the wood chewing problem should become less frequent. One of the big issues at the moment is that I have to separate the horses since they will rip each other's blankets, so they try to chew the fence to break into each other's pens. Exercise always helps keep their minds busy and encourages sleep, but with the ground still slippery I'd rather not risk any leg injuries. During the winter months, I have to just do whatever works.

My most recent effort to stop the wood chewing has been to provide the horses with ample toys, salt blocks and distractions. So far the tactic is working, but I suspect it will only last as long as their interest in the toys and salt holds out. Soon they'll be back to chewing wood, and I will be busy setting the next beaver trap.


Anonymous said...

I have to take exception to your comment about feeding lots of hay leads to fat, colicy horses. Nothing could be further from the truth. Eating free choice hay is the most natural way for horses to be kept. Horses fed a grain based diet are much more prone to colic than hay fed horses. As long as it's a good quality, grass hay (not alfalfa) it does a horse only good to eat as much hay as they want. Mine have free choice hay and only small amounts of grain. Neither are fat and I've never had a colic. {knock on wood} Yes, it is more expensive than grain, but for me, that's a small sacrifice for the health of my horses. :-)

Other than that, yes, I agree boredom is the most likely culprit. One of my horses is a beaver, also, although not nearly as bad as he was before I brought him home and could start feeding him free choice hay. :-)


Nuzzling Muzzles said...


You are right. I was just thinking about my experiences with over-feeding using straight alfalfa and alfalfa/grass mix. I updated the post to include your exception.

Rising Rainbow said...

Well, I have a couple of mares that would founder on free choice grass hay. There really are exceptions to every rule.

As for your fence, if you only have one small area that you are needing to protect since the chicken wire is working other places, I might suggest that you split a vinyl rail and put it over the edge. I have a friend who has done that for her stalls and it works so great. She has only half walls where most horses I know would chew on the top but the vinyl tacked on works great, the horses can chew if they want but do not damage.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Thanks for the suggestion, MiKael. I'll look into it. We have been contemplating getting rid of the wood all together and replacing it with vinyl since the vinyl fence out front has been a success. My husband did have to lock the panels in place with metal plates and bolts since they can pop out if a horse leans on them.