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Spring management practices for horses

Jennifer Earing, PhD, PAS, TFC Nutritionist 4/27/2015

If celebrity groundhog Punxsutawney Phil is right in his prediction, we’re set to have an early spring.  As the seasons change, so do our management practices.  Here are a few considerations that are important for equine owners this spring:

** Pasture management — Studies show that using pastures as a source of nutrition for your horses can cost one-third the amount of feeding hay.  However, proper management is the key.  Best practices for productive pastures include soil-sampling, fertilization, weed control, and grazing management. 

Basic fertilization typically includes correcting pH and applying nitrogen, phosphorus, and/or potassium.  However, the best way to identify fertility needs is to have a soil test done every two to three years.  Visit with your Co-op forage experts about soil-sampling and fertilization recommendations based on the results.  They can also advise you on weed control. 

Grazing management is critical in optimizing pasture health, but it is one of the most difficult challenges for horse owners.  Consider developing a rotational grazing system in which you rotate your herd through multiple pastures to avoid overgrazing.  As horses are moved from one pasture to the next, each grazed area is given an opportunity to regrow without stress.  While it requires more management, research has shown that rotational grazing can increase overall annual forage productivity.

** Transition from hay to pasture — This time of year, equine owners are also faced with transitioning horses from winter hay to lush spring pasture.  These two types of forage can be quite different in protein, carbohydrate, vitamin, and mineral content.  Differences in carbohydrate content raise the greatest concern as sudden increases in intake of nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) may lead to laminitis and colic.  That’s why it’s important to transition horses slowly from hay to pasture. Start by allowing horses access to pasture for 30 to 45 minutes a day for the first few days and gradually increase their grazing time over two to three weeks.  One way of preventing horses from gorging on pasture is to feed them hay first. This way, they’re already full and physically limited to how much grass they can consume.

** Feeding broodmares and foals — While forages should be the foundation of all equine diets, they may not completely fulfill a horse’s nutrient requirements.  A classic example of this is the pregnant broodmare.  As she progresses through late gestation and into the first few months of lactation, her nutrient requirements nearly double.  Even high-quality forages often fall short of these nutritional demands, and we must rely on a feed product designed for mares and foals.  How is this different from a typical horse feed?  Products like Co-op Pinnacle Mare & Foal (#331) contain a higher concentration of many key nutrients, including energy, essential amino acids, calcium, and phosphorus as well as trace minerals, all of which are critical to proper muscle formation and bone development in the foal. 

Spring will be here soon, so start thinking now about these management practices that can improve your operation and the well-being of your equine.

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