Spring into Summer: Grazing Strategies and Nutrition May 13 2016

Our green grasses are already beginning to turn brown since the rains have decreased for the season. It’s tempting to simply turn our horses out permanently, but its not necessarily the best idea.

Grasses that are overgrazed and drying typically are stressed. When grasses are stressed, they create a lot of Non-Structural Carbohydrates that can cause laminitis and even founder for the normal horse, and are of special concern for horses who have Equine Metabolic Syndrome/Insulin Resistance or Cushings.

While summer grazing is considered to be a “safer” time to graze, it is still worth being diligent. Most pasture management recommendations indicate that a horse should be allowed to graze when grasses are 6-8 inches, and then once they have eaten the grass down to 3-4 inches, it is time to let the pasture rest and re-grow. If you graze when the grass is 3-4 inches, you run the risk of killing the grass permanently and also heightening risks for high sugar intake.

Part of the conundrum here is what do you do with the horse when you are letting the pasture rest. Grazing is very good for the horse’s health; physically, the constant intake of forage generally keeps your horse’s digestive system in tip top shape and avoids acidic build up in the hindgut, and provides a bioavailable source of nutrients and hydration. Mentally, a horse is designed to forage all day with its herd, and hence is most relaxed in that state.

Most pasture management experts recommend that you take the horse off the pasture and put them in dry lot or stall, or rotate grazing throughout the pasture. Grazing rotation is the obvious choice, but often impractical or impossible for those with smaller properties. So, if you horse has to be put in a dry lot or stall, what do you do to maintain his health?

Let’s examine some of the key benefits of grazing, and how this can be addressed in a dry lot or stall:

  • Constant intake of forage: You can simulate this if you allow free-choice hay and/or a slow feeder.
  • Hydration: Horses get a lot of hydration from consuming fresh forage. Be sure to offer your horse plenty of clean fresh water. You can also add an electrolyte supplement to encourage drinking or supplement with minerals.
  • Anti Oxidant Intake: Grasses are known for their excellent Omega-3-6-9 profile and naturally occurring anti-oxidants, which support anti inflammatory response and general immunity.
    1. Omega Fatty Acids: consider supplementing with Flax Oil, Chia Seed, or Camelina Oil; and/or
    2. Anti-Oxidants: Vitamin E supplement or Camelina Oil, which has naturally occurring Vitamin E.
  • Managing Hindgut Acid: Limit the build up of hindgut acidity and health by incorporating suggestions in item 1 and considering these supplements:
    1. Prebiotics (enzymes) to encourage forage breakdown and health;
    2. Daily Gold's bentonite clay base to encourage hind gut movement and detoxification; and/or
    3. Gastro Balance’s mix of minerals and bentoite clay to encourage digestibility and nutrient absorption from hay.
  • Exercise: Grazing horses are constantly on the move so be sure to exercize your horse as much as possible. If he is on a dry lot, consider spreading hay around in small bunches to encourage walking and to simulate grazing as much as possible.
  • Vitamin Content: Fresh grass is known to provide horses with a wide range of vitamins (except for D which is processed from sun exposure).
    1. General Vitamin Profile: This herbal All-in-one supplement is a convenient bioavailable, similar source of vitamins.

Hope this was a useful article and feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions!  Happy Summer everyone! -M&D