Our foals keep eating bark and roots of trees - barricades are not an option. Is there something that is safe for the trees and safe for the foals that we can spray on to deter this habit?
Bark eating is seen most often during the late winter and early spring months. Chewing the bark off trees may be due to a nutrient deficiency, possibly one of the minerals such as phosphorus. However, in most cases, horses seem to chew because they like it. Wood chewing occurs in the late winter and early spring because this is the time when cool-season grasses have the lowest fiber content. Consequently, by chewing wood, the horse may be making up for some of the lack of bulk or fiber.
It also has been reported in controlled research that horses increase wood chewing during wet and cold weather. The wetness softens the wood. The coldness increases the maintenance energy requirements to maintain normal body temperature. Fiber digestion is essentially a fermentation that produces heat which can be used to maintain body temperature or warmth. Therefore, the increased fiber intake from wood may actually increase fermentation and heat production in the horse to maintain normal body temperature. Bark consumption is generally not harmful to the horse. Splinters from fences, however, may cause potential gastric complications that may cause a horse to colic.
A way to deter horses from chewing bark or the roots of trees is to place a fence around the tree or spray something on the tree that will deter the horse from chewing, such as a pepper spray or a commercially available anti-chew spray. Something that is hot or spicy usually does the trick and will not affect the horse or tree.