Monday, April 20, 2009

Starting Horses on Grass in the Spring

We’ve been having some wonderfully warm weather lately here in the Brainerd Lakes area, with a soft rain a few days ago. The ice is off the lake, the red-winged blackbirds and loons are back, and I heard spring peepers (small frogs) singing away yesterday. Spring is definitely here! Another wonderful sign is the new grass springing up, making things look green.

My “home field” for the horses is mainly just a feedlot – a couple of acres that is mostly wooded and without pasture. I keep them here all winter and in the summer they can go across the road to the pasture. I think the horses can smell the greening grass and are anxious to partake of it. I would love to just turn them loose on the pasture to eat the new spring grass, but I hesitate to do so and have them overeat and chance foundering. Those that are most at risk of founder are ponies, horses that are already overweight, or those that have Cushing’s syndrome.

A few years ago I had talked to my vet about the best way to work the horses into a grass diet in the spring after having had hay all winter. He recommended waiting to put them on the pasture until the grass was up and well established. Then I should turn them out for short periods at first; half an hour to an hour the first couple of days and then increase that time by an hour each day for a week to acclimate them to richer food. He also suggested feeding them their hay before turning them out so that they weren’t quite so hungry.

It’s a little inconvenient to take all the horses over to the pasture for such a short time at first, but it is well worth the inconvenience to keep them healthy and sound.

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