This week I ‘ave been mostly eatin’…. grass! And gorse, and sedge, and willow, and thistles, and a choice selection of wild flowers, and Brace’s sliced white and ice cream cornets.
Like all free ranging ponies, Gower ponies don’t just eat grass. They are browsers who enjoy a wide variety of grasses, pond weeds, wild flowers and shrubs & trees. During the spring and summer months they will enjoy quickly growing grasses and sedges because the young leaves are easy to digest, providing the nursing mares and growing youngsters with the energy and protein to grow. Reeds are also a popular source of fibre, eaten all year round.
Wild flowers, trees and pond weeds not only help ponies with their daily calorie intake, they also provide high quality protein, vitamins and minerals. In fact the deep roots of the trees and wild flowers help to bring minerals up from the bedrock, feeding the grass and in turn, feeding the ponies.
In the colder months, the grass doesn’t grow so well and many of the wild flowers die back. This means the ponies use gorse, other shrubs and more reeds as really great fibre providers. Really great because the process of breaking down fibre is done by the ponies ever present friendly bacteria – bugs that live all year round, in the ponies’ guts breaking down fibre by fermentation. The fermentation produces fatty acids that feed the ponies, and lots of heat as a by-product, keeping the ponies warm from the indside. ‘Central ‘eating’ if you like!
Particular care has to be taken with gorse! Ponies quickly learn to pull their lips back and use their teeth. The ponies have fantastic back teeth; block like with a rippled surface, just right for grinding the gorse down to size and mashing up those prickles. A favourite delicacy is burnt gorse. During the spring fires can often be seen on the Gower commons as the dry gorse is burnt back to encourage new growth. This can happen naturally by spontaneous combustion, but fires are also started deliberatly to take full advantage of the new growth that comes after.
There is one final source of food. Human gifts of sliced white and apples and carrots, but also the odd sandwich – the ingredients of which need careful investigation!
The gifts are usually given in kindness to the ponies but they do have the effect of causing arguments amongsts the ponies and bringing them close to the road where they may step out into traffic to avoid a kick from one of their compatriots. It’s perhaps better to enjoy watching them eat their natural buffet.