Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)TiHo eLib

Rejection behaviour of horses for hay contaminated with meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale L.)



Extensively used grasslands are frequently utilised for hay production for equines. Especially, extensive meadows have a great variety of plant species, which may include plants that are poisonous for equines such as meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale L.). To authors’ knowledge investigations about horses` avoidance behaviour towards dried meadow saffron in hay are missing. Reports of farmers are contrary to clinical symptoms described in case reports and associated with meadow saffron in hay.


The aim of this study was to determine the rejection behaviour of horses for hay contaminated with meadow saffron (MS) when fed ad libitum.

Study design

An 18-day feeding trial with six adult geldings to observe the rejection behaviour for hay contaminated with MS.


The horses were fed a basal diet containing hay ad libitum and a mineral supplement during the feeding trial. At six different daytimes, hay contaminated with 1% or 2% dried MS was provided to the horses over a duration of 1 h. The rejection behaviour was observed personally and by video recordings. If a horse ingested more than two plants of MS during one observation period, the observation was stopped and repeated at another day. When the observation period had to be stopped twice, the horse was excluded from the experiment.


Five of six horses ingested MS during the first feeding periods. One horse rejected leaves and capsules at the beginning of the study, but it showed repeated ingestion of MS after the seventh observation period.

Main limitations

Lack of knowledge about secondary plant metabolites affecting taste and their variability between fresh and dried plants.


The intake of MS in hay by horses could not be ruled out with certainty. Therefore, feeding hay contaminated with MS should be avoided for equids.


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