If you’re moving your horse to a different facility, or purchasing a place of your own, you need to make sure his new pasture is going to measure up nutritionally.
Whether you’re switching to a different boarding barn, or buying your own farm, it’s sometimes necessary to move your horse to a new location. One of the many things you need to consider is the quality of your horse’s new pasture. What condition is it in? Is it going to be a good source of nutrition for him? How many months out of the year will you be able to rely on it?
INITIAL NUTRITIONAL ASSESSMENTS
If there are already horses on the pasture, you can get some information about the area through observation. Do you see spots that are eaten down to the ground, and others where the grass is tall? This condition is called “greens and roughs”. When management does not involve rotating horses through different parts of the pasture, it is normal for “greens and roughs” to develop; horses will not graze where they pass their manure, and may choose less desirable grazing spots for manure deposits. However, if the greens are heavily grazed down, the density of horses per acre is too high to allow for good plant growth, either simply because there are too many horses or because the grasses are not the best choice.
As a rule of thumb, when the stand of plants is healthy it can support one horse per acre during the grazing season. The grazing season depends partially on your location and
weather, and partially on the grasses in the field. Clover and cool season grasses like Timothy or ryegrass will thrive in the early spring and fall, while warm seasonal grasses like
Bermuda are well suited to summer heat, which can slow the growth of other species.
DETERMINING DEFICIENCIES AND IMBALANCES
Once you’ve decided that the pasture has the potential to meet your specific needs, it’s a good idea to have it analyzed to confirm good energy and protein levels, as well as determine the mineral profile. Mineral deficiencies and imbalances, especially of important trace minerals like iron, copper, zinc, manganese and selenium, are extremely common.
A common profile in grasses is high iron and/or manganese with low zinc and copper (low selenium is also common in many areas). Since certain minerals can compete with each other for absorption, providing more iron and manganese will cancel out copper and zinc.
When you know the issues specific to your pasture, you can choose a product or design a custom supplement program that eliminates what you don’t need and provides the
correct levels of what you do need. Locate an independent nutritional consultant to help you with this
ANALYSIS RESULTS ARE ONLY AS GOOD AS THE SAMPLES
When collecting pasture samples, use stainless steel scissors to cut the grass off at the same height as the horses do, and put the samples in a paper bag. In a case of obvious greens and roughs, sample only the greens. If you have a mixture of growing conditions, such as slopes and low-lying wet or boggy areas, these should be sampled separately. As a general guide, you want to collect about 20 samples per acre. Your agricultural extension office probably has a publication that gives detailed instructions for pasture sampling.
There will be some variation in protein levels, and to a lesser extent mineral levels, depending on the season and the growth stage of the plants. For most situations, however, you will get good results by sampling the pasture around midseason to get a representative average. There may be exceptions depending on the precise species in your pasture — for example, a field with a heavy growth of clover early in the season that switches to a predominantly warm-season grass as temperatures heat up. Discuss this with your extension agent.
There is more to assessing the nutritional value of a new pasture than noting how pretty it looks, but information and experienced help is readily available. If you invest the time and take advantage of resources, you can generate a detailed profile of your pasture, then make a plan to supplement your horse and amend the soil for the best possible outcome.
Dr. Eleanor Kellon, staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, has been an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years, and is a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via the integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Preventing laminitis is the ultimate goal. ecirhorse.org
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