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/.
Spring is an eagerly anticipated time for horse owners as it brings the opportunity to introduce their horses to lush, growing pastures. However, it is crucial to approach this transition with caution. Introducing horses to pasture too early in the season or allowing them to graze for extended periods can have negative consequences for both the pasture and the horses’ well-being
Allowing Adequate Grass Recovery
To ensure the health of the pasture and the horses, it is important not to turn them out too early. After enduring the stresses of winter, the grass needs time to recover. Ideally, the grass should be allowed to re-grow to a height of 6 to 8 inches, depending on the species. This regrowth period enables the roots to strengthen and store energy before being grazed.
Heading 2: Preparing Horses for Pasture
Heading 3: Pre-Grazing Preparation
Before horses are turned out onto pasture for the first time, it is essential to feed them hay. This step ensures that they do not have empty stomachs when introduced to the new grazing environment.
Gradually Increasing Grazing Time
The initial grazing period should be limited to 15 to 20 minutes. Each day, the grazing time can be increased by 15 minutes until the horses are comfortably grazing for about 4 or 5 hours. At this point, they can be allowed unrestricted time on the pasture.
Digestive Health Considerations
Allowing horses too much initial grazing time can lead to digestive disturbances. The microflora in their gut requires time to adjust to the difference in forage sources. To minimize this risk, it is crucial to gradually increase their grazing time.
Overgrazing should be avoided to maintain the health of the pasture. Ideally, pastures should not be grazed to below 3-4 inches in grass length. Otherwise, the pasture can quickly deteriorate into a bare area. Additionally, overgrazing promotes the growth of hardy weeds over desirable grasses.
Consideration for Rapid Growth
During spring, cool-season grasses can experience rapid growth, resulting in higher levels of plant sugars (fructans). Horse owners should exercise caution during this time to prevent issues related to excessive sugar intake. The use of grazing muzzles can be considered to help reduce rapid grass intake.
Manage Pasture and Horse Health
The proper introduction of horses to spring pastures is essential for the well-being of both the horses and the pasture. By following these guidelines, horse owners can ensure that their horses have a healthy transition to grazing, while also maintaining the long-term health of the pasture.