Introducing Horses to Spring Growing Pastures
Posted: April 21, 2014
Changes in Pasture Growth
Along with the warmer temperatures, changes occur to the condition of the pastures where grasses turn to a greener appearance and will contain healthy nutritional value for the grazing horse. It won’t be long until the sound of lawnmowers will be abundant and farmers will be processing the first cutting of hay.
- During the winter months and times of inclement weather, domestic horses are
often confined in areas where they cannot access natural forage on a day to day
- Most horse owners that have pastures for their horses tend to restrict
the horse in winter from the pasture to protect the pasture from the damage a
horse can inflict.
- Horses are destructive on wet pastures often ripping with
their teeth the forage by the roots or causing extensive damage to the sod, by
churning and forming rivets with their hoofs.
- A horse owner who wishes to
provide the supplement a pasture can provide to the horse’s diet must take a
concentrated effort in maintaining a healthy pasture year round.
- These owners
often have sacrifice or dry-lot areas for the horse’s daily exercise and turn
out during inclement weather and long months of winter.
- Early in spring, grasses are striving to grow and must have two to three weeks to develop a length of stem that will assist growth in the following growing season. Horses should not grass on these early plants until the grass is at least 4 to 6 inches in height.
Benefits of Pastures
- A problem can occur with the acclimation of horses to forage when spring
arrives and the horses are introduced to a diet of green grasses.
- Horses are a
grazing/browsing animals, that prefer to supply the nutrients and fiber needed in their
system by eating natural pasture forage.
- A good healthy well-maintained pasture
might provide all the necessary forage a horse needs in its diet.
- The issue
for the horse owner is the challenge of controlling the amount of consumption of
the green grass when returning the horse to grazing.
- When the horse’s metabolism is not accustomed to the lush forage dramatic side effects can occur.
- The horse’s digestive system does not adjust to changes rapidly or easily.
- Horses fed erratically in both amounts and types of digestible items tend to
develop problems that can occur in the consequence of colic or founder.
- A horse not use to eating apples can develop colic if suddenly a bag of apples is consumed. Innocent people think they are giving the horse a treat when they feed them large amounts of carrots or throw the fresh lawn clippings over the fence for the horse to chomp on; when actually they could be causing a harmful chain reaction.
- One method of gradually introducing the horse to grass is to begin with small
controlled periods of grazing of 15 minutes a day for a few days.
- Increase in
the following days an additional ten minutes each turn out until the horse has
adjusted to a 3 or 4 hour period of grazing time.
- Then maintain this 4 hour period of grazing for a two week period before giving the horse total turn-out on the pasture. This will enable the horse’s digestive system to accept the digestion of the fresh grass. Even with the most careful management of horse forage consumption upsets effects can occur.
Continue Pasture Management
- Throughout the growing season, manage pasture growth by allowing grasses to reach at least a 6 inch height before allowing grazing.
- Sub-dividing pastures allows for rotational grazing with each pasture able to have a rest period.
- Remove horses from pastures when grass height is 4 inches or lower and move to a new pasture.
- Grasses need approximately 21 days to regain a height of 6 - 8 inches.
- Since horses grass sporadically often parts of the pasture may have higher grass heights. Mowing consistently, during the growing season, will assist in maintaining a desirable grass height and discourage weed growth and reproduction.
- Do not mow below 6 inches - set mower decks higher than in traditional lawn-type mowing levels.