When do pasture grasses lose nutritonal value? - The Horse Forum
  • 1 Post By deserthorsewoman
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post #1 of 5 Old 10-18-2013, 09:13 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: Rural central Pennsylvania
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When do pasture grasses lose nutritonal value?

I am new to horses. I have three 2.5 acre paddocks of grass (Kentucky, Orchard, Perennial Rye, and endophyte free Tall Fescue). I keep them optimized as per soil tests. I have one horse prone to foundering, so no legumes.
At what point do these grasses lose nutritional value? Currently I have three horses on pasture, and am hoping to keep them on there year round. I live in south central Pa. We have four distinct seasons.
I have looked on various search engines, but am not getting any direct answers. I know that spring green-up is a time of high nutritional value, there is a drop in summer, picks up in fall, and drops off in winter.
However, I am not getting the specific information I want. My goal is to have the horses on pasture year round, and was hoping they could get the majority of their nutrition from the grass forage.
With winter approaching, when do I start supplementing with hay? Those are the sorts of questions I have.
A good detailed source on the topic would be appreciated!
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post #2 of 5 Old 10-18-2013, 10:29 AM
Join Date: Sep 2011
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Equi-analytical.com and safergrass.org would be a good starter, the latter especially for you founder-prone horse.
In general, nutritional value is highest in late spring/early summer. Fall has a rise in sugars but general nutrition goes down. In winter grass is dormant, and hay will be needed. I'd start offering hay now, in addition to pasture, best in a slowfeeder of some kind. With four distinct seasons I actually would take my horses off the pasture and drylot them to give it a chance to rest.
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post #3 of 5 Old 10-19-2013, 08:55 AM
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The length of daylight makes the grass stop growing just as much if not more than the temps this time of year. I'm up in New Hampshire and I've started putting out hay last week. Dropped the first round bale yesterday. I've had 5 or 6 killer frosts already and that dreaded S word is showing up in the forecast already.

The place I get my hay from is about 35 miles northwest of me, in what we call the banana belt of NH, along the Connecticut River. They haven't had a frost yet but the grass has quit growing. My hay guy said his horses have grazed their pasture to nubs and he has been putting hay out for a couple weeks now. He's got 2 drafts in a 10 acre field.

As for fertilized, optimized, high test hay...I don't want it. It would probably kill my IR pony. I'm kinda lucky because my hay guy apparently has one with the same sort of problems so he keeps track of which bales came out of recently fertilized fields and which are first and second cut. Just good, clean basic mixed grass hay for me. Saves the recently fertilized stuff for the eventers and he can charge more for it too.

The grass isn't growing now and the horses would graze it into oblivion if I didn't feed hay and that's with just 3 on what is probably 13 to 15 acres of grass. (Close to 20 acres is fenced but the saplings are winning at the edges)
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post #4 of 5 Old 10-19-2013, 09:45 PM
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You're probably in the Susquehanna Valley area? The shorter days do contribute to grass growth/nutrition slowing down. If you live in a valley area where it's warm enough you're still mowing grass, you're pastures still have some nutritional value, although not as much as in the middle of summer.

When you get to stop mowing your yard is when your pastures most likely don't have much to offer in the way of nutrition

I'm from the OH/PA border originally but now live in southern Middle Tennessee. I mowed last week and that was the first time in two weeks, so grass growth/nutrition is slowing down.

Also, I can't speak for anyone else's horses but when my pasture grass goes dormant, my horses eat more hay when they come in at night.

Another good indicator they need hay in the daytime, is for me to throw out a small amount and see what they do with it.

If they walk past the hay and go out to pasture, they've still got good grazing somewhere on that 21 acres. If they stop and eat the hay up, I know the grass isn't offering much in the way of taste or nutrition

Also, if you're worried about founder:

When you have a frost followed by a day full of warmth and sunshine (fast heat up), you still need to worry about founder in the Fall.

The roots of the grass are pushing fructans up to the shoots the horses eat, at warp speed. It doesn't matter what kind of grass has been planted, the root system is feverishly pushing sugars above ground to keep the grass alive and that sugar rush can founder a horse prone to insulin issues.

Hope this helps
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post #5 of 5 Old 10-21-2013, 07:59 PM
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In addition to the good info others have given, you can send off samples for analysis to be precise about it. Different types of plant have slightly different nutrition too. While it depends on the pasture, soil, fertiliser, etc, etc, it is likely your horses will get most of the nutrition they require from the grass, but will be imbalanced & benefit from supplementing certain nutrients. FeedXL.com is one great resource for working out what/how much exactly. Especially if you get the pasture tested, you will know what needs to be supplemented.

They also have different sugar/NSC levels, which is IMO a more important consideration with horses. Rye grass for eg is very high sugar(developed for cattle fattening & milk production), so is not great for horses, especially those already 'laminitis prone'. I would be concerned about keeping easy keepers/lami-prone horses on this type of pasture without restriction, especially if fertilised. Orchard grass is apparently(I'm not from there) a lot lower NSC, more of a native grass. Have no idea about Kentucky & think fescue is a mid-range type. Fertilising grass can also raise the NSC, sunlight does, stress/overgrazing does, among a number of other factors, and hay retains the sugar that's in the grass when cut.

So... it depends, but on average, 3 horses on 7.5 well managed acres could work well without having to actually feed them extra. Horses need approximately 2.5% bwt daily in dry forage, so more than that in fresh, juicy grass(feedXL also has a good estimator for how much grazing), depends on how lush the grass, etc. So it depends as to whether/when/how much you may have to feed out hay. If pasture is too 'good', you will likely need to restrict grazing, esp if your 'prone to founder' horse is overweight/IR, especially with the rye grass.

Remember, hay loses many nutrients in processing, but it doesn't lose sugars, so if feeding 'improved' hay such as rye grass, may be best to soak it first to leach out sugars before feeding, esp to your lami-prone horse. You may consider feeding your horses soaked hay rather than allowing them free access to the pasture in Spring, on summer afternoons & other times the pasture is particularly rich in sugar.

Legumes, as in alfalfa, aren't necessarily bad for horses at risk of laminitis. Alfalfa is generally lower in sugar than most 'improved' grass varieties, so can actually be safer. Legumes are also relatively high in magnesium, which is generally lacking in the diet & very beneficial. *Although Mg is lost through many modern agricultural practices & Ca may be too high. Alfalfa is high calorie though, so may not be best for 'easy keepers', of which tends to often go along with 'lami-prone' because the cause is commonly like type 2 diabetes.

You can learn more about pasture & laminitis risks at Katy Watts | Safergrass.org & also at Home I would also urge you to look into providing extra magnesium in their diets. Magnesium for Horses | Natural Health for Equines is one of many sources of info online on magnesium studies.
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