After a few days of sun, it seems like spring might finally be on its way. Our UK seasons require us to change our management for most of our horses, usually based on the amount of pasture availability and growth. This year, pasture grass is late to get growing and this change in food availability has scuppered our usual spring routines. It’s made our horses more reliant on preserved forage and many of us are buying in extra hay that wasn’t budgeted for.
It’s easy to forget the contribution that pasture grass makes to our horses’ diets, even those who are turned out for just a few hours each day. Growing spring grass is nutritious and palatable, and supplies plenty of calories (dietary energy).
If your horse has lost weight over winter, consider their forage intake before you start adding more concentrate feed. If they are turned out all the time, ensure they have ad lib access to good forage, because this is often enough to cause weight maintenance or gain. Unless you have areas of ungrazed standing grass left over from last year’s growth, your horse’s pasture is likely to be eaten down to the point where there is little or no feed (forage) left on it.
On the other hand, good doers who tend to carry too much weight will benefit from the late grass growth, so use this frugal time to get their weight in check. Do offer them some supplementary forage in well-grazed pasture, however, or you might find your fencing or shelters chewed, as your horse looks for fibre.
Horses on completely eaten-down pasture that is not growing could be at risk of gastric ulcers due to a lack of feed intake, so supplementary forage is important.
For horses on ad lib forage who are too thin, add a medium energy concentrate feed such as a proprietary compound or straights (e.g. sugar beet, alfalfa), and consider vegetable oil as an extra source of calories. If you feed linseed (also called flaxseed) oil, you will also give their changing coats a boost.
Always feed a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to horses on less than the full recommended amount of a fortified compound feed, including those on just forage and on straights.
When our pasture grass finally starts to grow, take care not to graze it too hard early on, because this will inhibit its growth. If you have well grazed pasture, inhibiting grass growth by high grazing pressure on spring growth can allow clover, buttercups and weeds to take hold.
It will come as a surprise when the grass does finally start to grow, so be aware if you have laminitis-prone horse or ponies and restrict their intake appropriately.