Horses fed primarily hay throughout winter months should be transitioned carefully onto lush, spring pastures. A gradual transition onto grass is required to allow the horse's digestive system time to adapt to the new feedstuff. A gradual and limited transition is even more important to horses that are insulin resistant; immediate access to lush pastures can trigger a laminitic episode.
As the leaves form on the grass in the spring, the sugar and starch content of the grass increases. Horses will eat large quantities of grass if allowed free access, making their overall non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) consumption dangerously high for those horses who may already be prone to laminitic episodes.
Temperature and sunlight play a major role in the amount of NSC accumulation. To keep your horse as safe as possible, keep these rules in mind when transitioning horse to pasture grasses:
- When the night temperature is below 40 degrees F, the grass is too high in NSC
- Once it gets above 40 degrees F at night, the lowest NSC level is before the sun rises
- The NSC level is highest in late afternoon, after a sunny day
These is no “best time” to turn horses out; in moderate climates, horses are safest on pasture between 11 p.m. and 10 a.m. Horses should be adjusted to turnout slowly and offered hay when they are not on grass.
Testing your pastures is also a good idea; the results will allow horse owners a more-precise picture of when is the best time to turn out horses onto pasture.
Read more at Stable Management.
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