Feeding Your Horse When The Quality Of Grass Declines

As forage growth slows down during the late fall and winter months, horse owners across the country must provide their charges with an appropriate forage alternative to fulfill fiber requirements and replace declining nutrition. Most owners will start to reintroduce hay into the diet, though other products such as haylage or hay cubes are appropriate depending on the types of horses and their nutritional requirements. But when should owners start to supplement pasture with additional forage?

When Do I Need to Rebalance My Horse’s Diet?

Poor horse pasture will slow in growth rate and become discolored

Most owners are conscious of the question of when to offer alternative forage. We are generally knowledgeable enough about our own horses to notice when their overall health and conditioning declines or when they seem tired while being ridden or worked. It’s critical that we are sensitive to these signs as they may signal that our horses are undernourished. However in addition to this, the pasture that the horse lives on will reveal a couple of important clues, namely growth rate and plant health.

Paying Close Attention to Horse Pasture Growth Rates.

As summer passes and the season moves towards fall, owners will start to notice that pasture growth slows. Signs include a decreasing need for routine mowing and weed maintenance. Depending on the number of horses on any given acreage, pasture might withstand a slowdown in growth rate and continued grazing, so long as more land is allotted per horse as grass becomes increasingly sparse. A large, seven-acre paddock that comfortably sustained five horses in peak growing season might support three as pasture growth declines. A sign that your horse is not receiving as much forage as he may require are an increase in grazing behavior. If horses spend more time grazing, they are likely finding less to eat. In periods of lush growth, you might catch horses resting more often, as it is easier for them to satisfy their appetites and their need to graze.

Learning to Gauge Plant Health in Horse Pastures.

Another indicator of an imminent change of season is plant health. As autumn transitions into winter, pasture grasses often become increasingly unpalatable to the horse. Eventually all growth ceases and the plants turn brown. Horses will snack on this remaining pasture but, as it offers no nutrition, it must be supplemented with nutritious forage replacements.

How Much Forage Should I Offer Each Horse?

As soon as the owner feels their horses are not consuming sufficient pasture to meet daily forage requirements, they should start to add supplementary feed. The daily forage amount in total should make up around 1.5-2% of body weight daily. Therefore for a 15.2-hand, 1,100-pound (500-kg) horse, that would be 16.5-22 pounds (7.5-10 kg) of hay each day.

However, remember that this amount will likely satisfy the horse’s complete forage requirement, so, if the horse is still consuming some pasture, he may only require a portion of this amount.

If you find your horse is dropping weight quickly or is not performing as expected it is likely you will need to feed a well-fortified concentrate feed that supplies all of the protein, vitamins and minerals required for their well-being in addition to their daily forage requirement. In order to meet their daily requirements for vitamins and minerals, if they do not need a concentrate feed, they can be fed a vitamin and mineral supplement.

Monitoring your horse’s pasture all year round and noted changes before they affect the horse can prevent fluctuations in weight and conditioning in your horse, which in turn can help protect their health.

*Image courtesy of Dollar Photo Club