Initiating Spring Grazing

Spring has sprung, and that means that it’s time to prepare your horses and pasture for spring grazing. Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

Is your pasture ready?

  • Check and repair all fencing and gates.
  • Check that water sources are clean and working.
  • Begin grazing when a majority of the pasture is 6 to 8” tall.

Are your horses ready?

  • Schedule annual dental care
  • Test manure to determine fecal egg count and deworm accordingly to reduce parasite load on the pasture.

Start grazing!

  • Start with 15 minutes per day.
  • Add 15 minutes each day until 5 hours of grazing is reached, then unrestricted grazing can begin.
  • Stop grazing when a majority of the pasture is grazed down to 3″ to 4” tall and rotate to a new pasture or dry lot.

Written by Aubrey Jaqueth, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

13 Replies to “Initiating Spring Grazing”

  1. This is crazy advice. Who’s going to be able to catch their horses after 15, 30, or 45 minutes of grazing? Six to eight inches of grass might be good for the pasture, but a horse can eat a great deal of grass that is this tall and gain over two pounds per day; that is not good for the horse and can cause lead to founder. Also, many people do not have the amount of land required for pasture rotation. This is a big country and the climate is far from uniform. Where I live, 40 acres per horse is required for subsistence grazing and if I waited for the grass to be six inches high before I put horses on it, my horses would never get out. This article should be retitled; “Initiating Spring Grazing in Minnesota”.

    1. Hi Calvin 48,
      Thank you for your comment. We completely understand that pasture conditions and availability are going to vary greatly in different geographies. The post serves as simple guidelines, but we are aware that these are going to look a little different for everyone. Fortunately, we have a wealth of knowledge on this topic in our Hay/Pasture category of the blog: https://www.horsefeedblog.com/category/haypasture/, make sure to take a look!

      Thanks for your comment!

    2. I have 2 horses and 5 acres in east central TN. I planned my fencing to allow for pasture rotation. I also have a dry lot. The recommendations work for me. Sorry they don’t for you.

    1. Hi Diana,
      This is a great question! Pastures should not be grazed to below 3-4 inches in grass length or you will wind up with a dirt lot fairly quickly. Some weeds are also hardier than most grasses, so if pastures are over grazed, weeds will become more prevalent. Also, please consider your geography and what is considered ‘normal’ for your grazing conditions. This might look a little different for you depending on where you are located.

      Best of luck!

  2. This would be useful if it were paired with info on when to take a horse OFF pasture. Our horses are turned out 24/7/365. A lot of people leave their horses turned out year round here. Sometimes it’s clear that pasture access needs to be restricted, but not always

    1. Thank you for your comment Ellen! We understand that pasture conditions and availability vary greatly across the country, so this scenario is going to look different depending on where you live and your amount of pasture available. Additionally, we have some other great blog articles regarding grazing, this one specifically addresses when to take your horses off pasture: https://www.horsefeedblog.com/2018/09/pasture-management-how-to-prepare-for-fall/

      Thanks!
      Robyn A.

  3. This spring ( 2019 ) what are your predictions regarding when the area pastures ( Grant, Stillwater, etc. ) are going to be ready for horses?

    Also, at my barn, the horses are not slowly introduced to the pastures. When they are released from their current “dry lot”, where they only graze from rolls of hay, they are in the pasture 24/7 through fall.

    1. Hi Paula,

      Thank you for your question about when area pastures might be ready for grazing. Great question and will depend on where you are located, soil type and drainage and the weather. In general, good idea to wait and turn horses out on pasture until the pasture has dried up and has recovered and is 4-6 inches tall. This gives the plants time to build up some root reserves after the winter depletion. The pasture needs to be dry enough so the horse traffic will not tear it up.

      Gradually introducing the horses to pasture is highly recommended as switching the forage source suddenly causes a pretty big stress on the microflora of the gut and can cause digestive disturbances, including colic and diarrhea. If that is simply not an option, the next best plan is to make certain that the horses have been well fed on dry forage before they are turned out on the pasture with their normal forage source. If the pasture contains cool season grasses, also better to turn out in the morning after the sugar content built up during the day has been transferred to the roots. Also, If you can pick a day when it is NOT bright sunshine, the sugar production I the cool season grasses will be lower.

      Also make certain horses have access to fresh clean water and salt free choice.

      Best wishes,
      Roy

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