Frost Concerns for Grazing Horses

frost on grass representing Frost Concerns for Grazing Horses
Photo Credit: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Fall can be a beautiful time of year for horseback riding. However, frost can negatively impact horse health during fall grazing. 

Frost For Grazing Horses Introduces Higher Concentrations of Nonstructural Carbohydrates

There are no reports of toxicity of horses grazing frost damaged pastures (includes grass and legume species). However, frost damaged pastures can have higher concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates, leading to an increase in potential for founder and colic, especially in horses diagnosed with or prone to obesity, laminitis and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. To help prevent these health issues, wait up to a week before turning horses back onto a pasture after a killing frost. Subsequent frosts are not a concern as the pasture plants were killed during the first frost.

Why do nonstructural carbohydrates increase during the fall? During the day, plants carry out the process of photosynthesis. In this process, they make carbohydrates as an energy source for the plant. A second process, respiration, is carried out when the plants use up the carbohydrates they produce during the night for energy. Plant respiration slows down when temperatures are near freezing. As a result, the plants hold their carbohydrates overnight. Freezing can stop respiration and lock the carbohydrates in the plant for over a week. Thus, plants tend to contain more carbohydrates in colder temperatures or after a frost. Often, horses will prefer forages after a frost due to the higher carbohydrates levels.

At Nutrena, we believe proper nutrition plays the biggest role for a lifetime of health and happiness for every horse. That’s why Nutrena horse feeds are specifically formulated for every life stage and activity level. 

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Pasture Management – How to Prepare for Fall

Managing pasture can be a very important tool in controlling feeding cost for all livestock, including horses being kept on small acreages.  If pasture is going to provide a substantial amount of the required nutrition for a horse, it takes about 2-3 acres, per 1,100 pound adult horse.

Even with adequate acreage, weather conditions can limit pasture regrowth and decrease the amount of forage available.  Avoiding over-grazing is important for both the pasture and for the animals.   Keep the following in mind:

  1. Remove animals from the pasture when plants are grazed down to 3-4 inches in height. Grazing  too long and allowing animals to eat the grass off too close to the ground, will kill the grass and turn the pasture into a dirt lot where the only green plants are weeds, potentially requiring expensive renovation.   Also, if animals eat the grass too close to the ground on sandy ground, the risk of sand colic may increase.  Animals may also consume potentially toxic weeds if no other forage is available.
  2. If you have limited acreage, consider purchasing some temporary fencing so that you can rotate the pasture. The outer fencing should be a safe, permanent fencing.  You can cross fence the pastures with temporary fencing such as capped steel posts and appropriate electric wire.  By allowing the animals to graze one section, then moving them to another, total pasture yield can be increased substantially, helping to control total feed costs and improve pasture health.  Clip and drag the pastures after you pull the animals off to control weeds, parasites and flies.
  3. As pasture declines, you will need to adjust the amount of forage that is offered to maintain dry matter intake and nutrient intake. If the forage available is lower protein and lower energy than the pasture has been, you may have to adjust the concentrate portion of the diet. If you are using a ration balancer, you may need to move to the higher feeding rates.  If the higher feeding rates do not maintain Body Condition Score and Topline Score, you may need to switch to a different feed to allow higher feeding rates.  It is essential to monitor both Body Condition Score and Topline Score.
  4. Declining pasture quality can be a particularly serious issue for young growing horses, pregnant mares and senior horses.
  5. Make certain that fresh clean water is available at all times and that salt is available at all times. If you are not feeding a balanced feed or ration balancer, offer appropriate mineral free choice as well.
  6. If space is very limited, keep a dry lot area where animals can be fed and watered to prevent areas of pasture from being overgrazed.

Managing the pastures and selecting the right feeds as pastures change can help manage total yearly costs as well as improve animal health and condition.

Fall Health Concerns for Horses

Fall HorsesFall is a picturesque season for horseback riding, but certain factors can pose health risks for horses. In this article, we will discuss specific concerns related to falling leaves, frost, and grazing habits during the autumn months.

 Maple Leaf Toxicosis: Toxicity and Symptoms

The ingestion of dried or wilted maple leaves can lead to toxicosis in horses. While fresh leaves are generally not toxic, dried leaves pose a risk. Toxicosis typically occurs in autumn during normal leaf fall. Horses affected by toxicosis may display symptoms such as depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, and dark red or brown urine. In severe cases, horses may experience difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, and ultimately, death. To prevent maple leaf toxicosis, it is advisable to keep horses fenced out of areas where wilted maple leaves are abundant.

Cyanide Toxicity from Prunus Species: Risk and Consequences

Plants belonging to the Prunus species, such as cherries, contain cyanide. Ingesting the plant or its seeds, or consuming wilted plant material after a frost, can release cyanide, posing a risk to horses. Cyanide toxicity can cause rapid death, with affected animals typically found deceased within minutes to a few hours after ingestion. It is important to remove Prunus species from horse pastures to prevent potential cyanide toxicity.

Frost-Damaged Pastures: Potential Risks and Precautions

Frost-damaged pastures, including grass and legume species, can have higher concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates. This increase in carbohydrates raises the risk of conditions like founder, colic, and laminitis, especially in horses prone to obesity, laminitis, and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. To mitigate potential adverse effects, horse owners are advised to wait for up to a week after the first killing frost before turning horses back onto the pasture. Subsequent frosts do not pose the same concerns, as the pasture plants were already killed during the initial frost.

Awareness and Precautions

Being aware of fall health concerns for horses is crucial for maintaining their well-being during this season. Avoiding the ingestion of dried or wilted maple leaves and removing Prunus species from pastures can help prevent toxicities. Additionally, understanding the risks associated with grazing frost-damaged pastures allows horse owners to make informed decisions and take necessary precautions to prevent conditions like founder and colic. By staying vigilant and implementing appropriate measures, horse owners can ensure a safe and healthy fall season for their equine companions.

Ready to ensure your horse is getting the optimum nutrition at feeding time, every time? Find the perfect feed formulated specifically for horse’s needs with our Feed Selector Tool.

Feed Selector tool

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. 

Fall Pasture Management

Red horse grazing representing Fall Pasture Management

Fall presents an excellent opportunity for horse owners to improve the quality of their pastures. By focusing on seeding or overseeding, weed control, fence maintenance, and grazing practices, horse owners can ensure healthier and more productive pastures during the fall season.

Seeding and Overseeding: Optimal Time and Benefits

Between August 1st and September 15th, horse owners should consider seeding or overseeding their pastures. This period offers favorable conditions, including adequate moisture, reduced weed competition, and cooler weather. Seeding or re-seeding during the fall allows for better establishment and growth of desired grasses, leading to improved pasture quality.

Perennial Weed Control: Best Time and Effectiveness

Fall is the preferred time for addressing perennial weeds in pastures. Perennial plants store carbohydrates in their roots during this season, making them more susceptible to herbicides. Treating weeds in the fall allows the herbicide to be translocated to the root, ensuring more effective control and reducing competition for nutrients in the pasture.

Fence Maintenance: Importance and Timely Repairs

Prior to the ground freezing, it is crucial to inspect and repair fences, especially posts. Broken posts should be fixed promptly to prevent further damage. By addressing fence issues before winter, horse owners can ensure the safety and containment of their horses.

Preparing for Winter:

Re-Growth and Winter Survival

Before winter sets in, it is essential to allow pasture grasses to have 3 to 4 inches of re-growth. This re-growth contributes to their winter survival and promotes quicker spring growth. Providing sufficient growth going into winter supports the overall health and resilience of the pasture.

Utilizing Sacrifice Paddocks

Instead of keeping horses on pastures during winter, it is recommended to use sacrifice paddocks or dry lots. These areas offer shelter, access to hay, and water while minimizing damage to the pasture. Grazing on pastures over winter provides limited nutrition to horses and can harm the plants.

Grazing After the First Killing Frost: Potential Risks and Caution

After the first killing frost of fall, horse owners should exercise caution when grazing. Frost-damaged pasture forages tend to have higher concentrations of non-structural carbohydrates. This can increase the risk of laminitis and colic, particularly for obese horses or those diagnosed with laminitis and equine metabolic syndrome. To reduce the chances of adverse health effects, it is advisable to wait for one week after the first killing frost before turning all horses, including healthy ones, back onto the pasture.

Promoting Healthy Pastures and Horse Well-being

By implementing effective fall pasture management practices, horse owners can enhance the quality of their pastures and support the overall health of their horses. Seeding or overseeding, controlling perennial weeds, maintaining fences, and making prudent grazing decisions contribute to healthier pastures during fall and beyond. With proper management, horse owners can ensure optimal nutrition, winter survival, and a thriving pasture for their equine companions.

Ready to ensure your horse is getting the optimum nutrition at feeding time, every time? Find the perfect feed formulated specifically for horse’s needs with our Feed Selector Tool.

Feed Selector tool

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. 

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