Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Pasture Concerns

I just spent several days last week at our Animal Care Workshop (an exclusive training event at our farm for dealers and dealer employers), and during my equine digestive physiology talk we discussed how pasture grazing at certain times of the year and environmental conditions can be linked to digestive disturbances. Since this is certainly an issue right now in many parts of the country, it seems like a good time to discuss the question: How do we best manage introducing horses to new spring pastures to minimize the risk of digestive upsets such as laminitis and/or colic?

Horses that are kept on pasture year-round usually adjust to the new grass naturally as it grows, since Mother Nature does a fairly good job of making pasture changes gradually. The risk of problems occurring increases when horses have been confined and fed a hay and grain diet during the winter, and are then abruptly turned out on the lush green pasture in the spring. Further, horses that have been kept up through the winter may overeat when turned out because of the palatability of the lush green foliage. This sudden change in the diet, especially when it includes a rapid influx of starch and fructans (the storage carbohydrates of grasses) into the hindgut, may trigger digestive upset.

There are several ways to prevent or minimize problems when introducing horses to spring pastures. Feeding hay immediately before turn-out may help keep horses from overeating, since they are less likely to overeat on an already full stomach. Restricting grazing time will also help minimize risks. A suggested schedule is: thirty minutes of grazing once or twice a day on the first day of grazing; then increase grazing time by about 10 minutes per day until the horses are grazing 4-6 hours per day total. At this point, they have adapted to the green grass.

If the horse is sensitive to soluble carbohydrates (sugars and starch) due to conditions such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Cushing’s Syndrome, Insulin Resistance, or chronic laminitis, grasses tend to be lowest in soluble carbs early in the morning, so it may be helpful to limit grazing time to the hours between 3 and 10 am. Other options to manage these conditions include utilizing a grazing muzzle to limit pasture intake, or some horses may not able be able to tolerate any grazing time at all.

1 comment:

  1. My 21 year old mare has had two bouts of laminitis in June 2007 and October 2009. She is fine now and I have an excellent therapeutic farrier who keeps her feet maintained. She has been on Purina Wellsolve L/S since 2009. This year she is losing weight around her ribs. Is this just normal for her age or should I change her to Senior? Nancy