For most horse owners the return of warm weather is a very welcome time. It often marks a return to having horses on pasture and a chance to decrease the expense of feeding hay. Changing the diet from a hay with about 10% moisture and fed at a known amount to grass that may contain 75% moisture and be consumed at an unknown amount often leads to digestive upsets. Most horse owners are very careful about changing feeds (concentrates/grains) over about a week to 10 days. Following this same principle when re-introducing a horse to pasture will minimize digestive upsets. Since the bacteria in the large intestine are critical in digesting fiber and these change in specie and numbers depending on the type of feed, changing fiber sources slowly is important. This is a big feed change, with moisture, carbohydrates and protein changing.
Here are some tips to minimize digestive upsets when changing from hay back to pasture.
- Feed hay before turning out on pasture. Fill will help decrease the horse’s appetite.
- Limit the time on pasture. Slowly increase the amount of time the horse can graze; increase the time about 15 minutes per day for the first 10-14 days.
- Use a grazing muzzle to limit intake if you can not limit grazing time.
- Understand Body Condition Scoring and how it affects your horse’s health. Know your horse’s BCS.
- Walk the pasture to insure it is free of down fences, trash blown in over winter, etc.
- Be observant. Look closely at the horses daily. Watch for loose manure, cuts, scrapes, allergic reactions, etc.
Following some simple rules and taking time to re-introduce the horses to pasture will pay big dividends in their health and well-being. Never take this feed change for granted.
Provide Hay Before Turn-out Each Day for Several Days
Limit Time on Pasture