Question: I’ve heard conflicting recommendations on when to start grazing my horses. Is April 1st too early to start grazing?
Answer: Spring grazing should be introduced slowly and delayed until grasses reach 6 to 8″ to optimize both the health of the horse and pasture. Calendar date is not important as weather conditions and grass growth can very greatly from year to year.
When pastures reach 6 to 8″, begin grazing for 15 minutes, increasing the grazing time each day by 15 minutes until 4 to 5 hours of consecutive grazing is reached. After that, unrestricted or continuous grazing can resume.
We also recommend feeding horses their normal hay diet before turning them out to pasture during the first several grazing events of the year. This strategy should help avoid rapid intake of pasture grasses.
Even though hay and pasture are both forms of forages, there are significant differences. A gradual change from one feedstuff to another provides enough time for the microbial populations to adjust, reducing the chance of colic and laminitis.
This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.