Changing management practices in spring

Apr 27, 2020

Spring is here.  Warmer temperatures and longer days are certainly something to look forward to.  As the seasons change, so do our management practices.  Here are a couple of management considerations you should think about.
Pasture Management
 Productive pastures can contribute significantly to the overall nutrition program of your horse. It has been shown that utilizing properly managed pastures as a source of nutrition can cost one-third the amount of feeding hay.  However, proper management is the key and is often overlooked.  So, what does proper management include?  Good management focuses on soil sampling and fertilization, weed control, and grazing management. 
Basic fertilization typically includes nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium application; however, the best way to identify soil needs is to have a soil test done each 2-3 years.  Visit with your local coop about soil sampling; they can also help with fertilization recommendations based on the soil test results, and chemical recommendations for weed control. 
Grazing management and the prevention of overgrazing is critical in optimizing pasture health, but is one of the most difficult management challenges horse owners face.  Consider developing a rotational grazing system in which you can rotate your herd through multiple pastures.  As horses are moved from one pasture to the next, each grazed pasture is given an opportunity to re-grow without the stress of grazing.  While it requires more management, research has shown that implementing rotational grazing can increase overall annual forage productivity, which means less hay to purchase.
Transition from Hay to Pasture
Transitioning horses from winter hay to lush spring pasture is another management decision horse owners must make this time of year.  Despite the many similarities of hay and pasture, the two can be quite different with regards to their protein, carbohydrate, vitamin, and mineral content.  Differences in carbohydrate content often raise the greatest concern, as sudden increases in intake of nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC), specifically fructans (a type of NSC), lead to increased incidences of laminitis and colic.  Consequently, it important to transition horses slowly from hay to pasture; start by allowing horses access to pasture for 30-60 minutes a day for the first few days and gradually increase the duration of their grazing time over the course of 2-3 weeks.  One way of preventing horses from gorging themselves when turned out 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 (hay or pasture) should be the foundation of all equine diets, they may not completely fulfill the horse’s nutrient requirements.  A classic example of this is the pregnant broodmare.  As a mare 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 meeting these increased requirements.  In many cases, due to the size of the fetus, the mare cannot physically consume enough forage to fulfill her and her foal’s nutrient needs.  So to supply her nutritional demands we rely on a feed product designed for mares and foals.  How is a mare and foal feed different from a typical maintenance horse feed?  Products like Winner’s Cup Next Generation 1600 (#331) will contain higher concentration of many key nutrients, including energy, essential amino acids, calcium, and phosphorus, as well as trace minerals, all critical to proper muscle formation and  bone development. 

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