Plan Ahead for Spring Pasture Grazing
by Steve Breitenstein
Before we know it, spring will be here and you may want to turn your horses out to pasture. This is tempting after a long winter, but being introduced to pasture grazing too quickly can cause colic, laminitis, or founder.
First, wait for the grasses to reach 6 to 8 inches in height, then begin allowing your horse to graze for 15 minutes, increasing by 15 minutes every day until they have reach 4 to 5 hours of continuous grazing (Martinson). As long as your horse does not experience any problems at this point, unrestricted grazing may begin.
It is recommended to feed your horse their normal diet of hay as you begin this process to prevent them from gorging on spring grass. If your horse, however, has been grazing on pasture from the time the ground thaws in early spring, he will be introduced to the new growth naturally. Remember to feed their normal diet of hay as the pasture comes in (Blocksdorf).
As summer approaches, people can be fooled by the tall grass. They may assume it is full of vitamins and nutrition. Mature grass, however, is actually low in protein, energy, vitamins and all the good stuff horses need, apart from fiber (Biggs-Waller & McNeal). Keep your grass trimmed so that healthy grass can grow, or rotate your horse among various pastures. By gradually introducing your horse to pasture you can help ensure both horse and pasture stay healthy.
Biggs-Waller, S. & McNeal, G. (March/April). Introducing horses to spring pasture. Hobby Farms.
Blocksdorf, K. Introducing your horse to pasture: Take it slowly when putting your horse on lush grass. University of Minnesota; Extension.
Martinson, K. PhD. Transitioning horses to spring pasture. University of Minnesota.