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My horses mostly just eat grass. I don’t know what kind of grass it is and don’t know how to tell. They have all the grass they need with 24/7 access to it. Ona (age 5 1/2) looks great, PJ (age 19) is a little fat. Not terrible. This is going to be our second winter here and we’ve added an 18 yr old gelding. Both geldings are very easy keepers. Ona stays in good condition all the time, I guess maybe because she’s young. Each of them gets about 3/4 lb of Strategy per day during the summer. I just feed them to keep them easy to catch in the summer and I use Strategy because someone said it was good.

We still have quite a bit of green grass in the pasture. A lot of it has gone to seed. I’m wondering how to know when it’s time to start buying hay and how to get it analyzed and how to calculate what kind of feed they need and how much.

I’m thinking it’s time to get educated about forage and nutrition and pasture management, but don’t know where to start. I’m pretty sure there’s more than one type of grass growing in the pasture and my guess is that the stuff they don’t like is what gets left to go to seed. So then next year more of the stuff they don’t like will grow, right? So how do you manage that?
 

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Your local extension service should be able to help you identify what grasses are growing, either with samples you bring in, or by sending you home with a pamphlet so you can play "match the grass". They can also help you find a local agronomist who can come do some soil samples of your pasture to help you learn what you need to do in terms of fertilization and weed control, and some can also do hay testing.

We keep the less-desirable grass from spreading by mowing the long areas before they go to seed. Done judiciously, this works well. If it looks like the same grass the animals gladly eat elsewhere, it's probably somewhere they drop manure, and then won't eat in that area. Dragging the pasture or picking up manure, then mowing can help, as can dividing the pasture up into smaller areas and practicing intensive rotational grazing so they have a small area to graze intensely for a few days, then are moved to a new area. This keeps growth even, prevents the horses from being too picky, and keeps some areas from being overgrazed while others are never grazed. Rotating pastures with other animals such as cattle can also help.

Around here, horses on 24/7 pasture generally get started on hay when they'll eat it. We start offering hay in mid-fall, and the horses generally ignore it or pick at it for awhile, then one day they'll demolish it all and look for more. From that point on, they get hay until spring when the same thing happens-- they'll suddenly abandon the hay entirely and then it's pretty safe to stop feeding it. If your horses are kept in a smaller lot and off the bigger pasture for the winter and spring (very common) then you'll need to reintroduce the pasture slowly. Many people wait until they get a cutting of hay off the pasture in June before running horse on it again. If you have horses prone to obesity or founder, keeping them off early spring grass, off stressed grass (during a drought or after it freezes in the fall) can make a big difference in the health and soundness of the horses. Having your hay tested for sugar content and nutrients is something most people don't do, but again, with an at-risk horse, it's worth doing.

I tend to skip complete feeds and ignore sweet feeds entirely. My horses get either plain oats and a mineral/salt block, or recently I've started feeding them a Ration Balancer instsead of the oats with good results. They get about 1 lb per day at most and look great. Ration Balancers are designed to be used with horses on full-time pasture and grass forage. If you have a hard keeper or an older horse lacking teeth, look into a complete senior feed with forage included, or consider supplementing that horse with soaked alfalfa cubes and/or beet pulp for roughage.

The general rule of thumb for feeding hay is 1-2% of the horse's body weight daily in forage. So a 1000 pound horse needs at least 10 lbs per day. Of course, if the horses still have pasture or a rich feed, they need less than this. A horse in very cold climates or where it's rainy, windy, and cold without much shelter will need a lot more to stay warm. Once temps go below zero, I do free-choice for mine. When it's above that, they seem to do fine with twice daily feedings, as that keeps them eating for a few hours after each feed. What you feed is up for debate-- some feel that a high-quality hay that the horses don't need much of is best, while others feel that a lower-quality hay (of course, still free from mold) is better as the horses can then eat more, which can help prevent boredom, ulcers, etc. It's a case-by-case basis choice you'll need to make. Most pleasure horses who do minimal work all winter do just fine on grass hay with a mineral/salt block and perhaps a small amount of grain/feed. A harder working horse, mare in foal, or older horse may need better hay and alfalfa.

In the past, many horses on full-time pasture did not get extra feed in the winter. If the pasture has good grass on it year-round, you may not need to feed hay unless the weather is especially cold or windy. When I have my horses on my parents' farm with 40 acres of good native grass, they eat very little hay over the winter and stay in good shape. This year there are cattle out on that pasture so mine are going to need hay as their current pasture is about 12 acres, and with 3 horses, that's not enough to sustain them over the winter. They still go out on it, but I would venture there's not much nutrition in the grass that's left, and we'll pull them off soon once the ground freezes hard (which it usually has done by now) and put them in a 4-acre dry lot for the winter to spare the pasture until after we hay it off in late spring.
 

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I am anal about having my hay for the year,in my hay, shed by no later than the end of July.

I feed hay year around since my air ferns are on a dry lot 12 hours a day. I do rotate my small pasture and even set up a pasture paradise. I mow and drag my pastures. I did a ‘weed and feed’ in late October.

I second going to your local Ag extension office. They will be very helpful!
 

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It's winter....what you see as green and plentiful is what the horses won't eat not what is still a plentiful diet available.
Your horses surviving and thriving off of their pasture is now a limited time and commodity.
By me {Florida} our pastures are done for the most part with growth.
Weed and feed, mow and drag them but they are not growing enough to provide proper nutrients and food needed daily by the horse.
By all means if you want to test your hay do so...but any hayman worth having has his fields tested and can provide that information to you upon asking...you need to know what you are looking at too.
If you are purchasing bales, round or squares, unless you purchase this hay in quantity it is pointless and expensive to test every few bales.
By the time the results are back you've moved onto another delivery load.
I have 3 1/2 tons of small squares in my barn currently.
Cut one bale so far since delivery to just try it.
I tried a round bale for the first time to see how much work it would be for me...
All of that hay though came off the same fields...just different section and row of cut grass.
My hayman when I asked whipped out the test results so fast I laughed...I only needed to know not see all the data..

Love my hay guy...treat yours right if he treats you right, they are worth gold with a quality product.
Good hay is no waste, every morsel consumed and those horses look great holding their weight.
:runninghorse2:...
 

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I'll third making use of your ag extension office. You can mow while they are on an area, same for dragging. Just depends on how long they are staying in that space. I have a friend that has hers on 20 acres seasonally planted and divided into long one acre strips. They are only turned out so many hours a day. They all open across the front to get them in or out where they go into dry lot or out with the cattle on pasture that is no where near as rich. Hay goes out in the dry lot year round and in the pasture once the grass starts going dormant. They mow and drag after the horses are moved off. The cattle pasture (100 acres) gets mowed and dragged before weeds seed so it just depends on what is there. They walk or ride it on a regular basis to keep up with what is not being eaten.
 

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Unfortunately I don't have my horses in a place where there's enough wide open space to sustain them without hay, even during the summer months, though they are turned out 24/7 and move around nibbling. Fortunately, the hay is high quality and the need for concentrates is pretty minimal, just a ration balancer for both. I'm definitely not a feed expert, but when I was trying to learn more about diet, I signed up for a month of access to an online program called FeedXL. I can't remember the price, maybe around $20? It's an online site where you enter info about the horses, their lifestyle/workload, whatever you know or find out from the extension office about your soil and pasture, and then any supplements, grains, or concentrates you're considering can be plugged into the program for an analysis of deficiencies or overkill. Pretty neat to fool around with it.

This is the website, they are on FB as well.
 

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We were thinking about dividing the pasture in three and rotating, dragging and mowing one area at a time.
How many acres do you have overall?

In general, it is a good idea to have some sort of pasture rotation schedule. It allows the "good grass" to have time to grow back; because let's face it, horses have their favorite spots to graze!

And yes, dragging and mowing will help with weed/grass control.

Plus, pasture rotation also helps keep worms under control.

I’m wondering how to know when it’s time to start buying hay and how to get it analyzed and how to calculate what kind of feed they need and how much.
I agree with sarahfromnc that I want to essentially have my hay "fresh" from my supplier, so in July! In my area, that's when hay gets put up so that's when I go pick it up / get it delivered.

The earlier you shop, the better quality you can find. Although every year will be different. We had a horrible drought this year, so hay is not very good overall and more expensive.

I agree with contacting your local extention office. They should have lots of resources about testing your current pasture and what types of grasses are best for your horses and your area.
 

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Here in North Alabama, our rule of thumb is start feeding hay August 15th and feed through April 15th. Typically by August, the grass is so dry and dead, they get little benefit from it. And hopefully by April, new grass is strong enough to support grazing. This is of course assuming your pasture is strong and not overgrazed or under water.

Your Extension office is the best place to start! They are a HUGE wealth of knowledge that they will readily share, typically free of cost.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Unfortunately I don't have my horses in a place where there's enough wide open space to sustain them without hay, even during the summer months, though they are turned out 24/7 and move around nibbling. Fortunately, the hay is high quality and the need for concentrates is pretty minimal, just a ration balancer for both. I'm definitely not a feed expert, but when I was trying to learn more about diet, I signed up for a month of access to an online program called FeedXL. I can't remember the price, maybe around $20? It's an online site where you enter info about the horses, their lifestyle/workload, whatever you know or find out from the extension office about your soil and pasture, and then any supplements, grains, or concentrates you're considering can be plugged into the program for an analysis of deficiencies or overkill. Pretty neat to fool around with it.

This is the website, they are on FB as well.
Thank you so much for that link. I will definitely check it out. Will get in contact with my extension agent first.

How many acres do you have overall?

In general, it is a good idea to have some sort of pasture rotation schedule. It allows the "good grass" to have time to grow back; because let's face it, horses have their favorite spots to graze!

And yes, dragging and mowing will help with weed/grass control.

Plus, pasture rotation also helps keep worms under control.



I agree with sarahfromnc that I want to essentially have my hay "fresh" from my supplier, so in July! In my area, that's when hay gets put up so that's when I go pick it up / get it delivered.

The earlier you shop, the better quality you can find. Although every year will be different. We had a horrible drought this year, so hay is not very good overall and more expensive.

I agree with contacting your local extention office. They should have lots of resources about testing your current pasture and what types of grasses are best for your horses and your area.
I'm not sure the exact acreage that is pasture. I'm thinking maybe 5 of it is open pasture and then 2 acres with trees and there's lush grash back there under the trees in places too.

Last year I just got round bales from my supplier and he kept them covered and delivered them as needed. I only went through 3 the whole winter. I was considering doing that again this year. I do have a place to store square bales now - probably enough room for all I need. I asked him when I needed to order the hay and he just said "whenever you're ready for it." He's my farrier and he pretty much only sells hay to his hoof clients I think. I never considered that I might get better quality hay by buying early.....

Here in North Alabama, our rule of thumb is start feeding hay August 15th and feed through April 15th. Typically by August, the grass is so dry and dead, they get little benefit from it. And hopefully by April, new grass is strong enough to support grazing. This is of course assuming your pasture is strong and not overgrazed or under water.

Your Extension office is the best place to start! They are a HUGE wealth of knowledge that they will readily share, typically free of cost.
My horses let almost all their hay go to waste last year and didn't lose any weight. It's not nearly as warm here in KS as it is in Alabama. I assumed your grass would grow year round?

Yeah.....I think maybe I have a lot more to learn than I realized.

This horse learning is never ending!
 

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I've got 4.5 acres of dedicated North Texas pasture that I rotated in half for the 1st year, but opened all together for my 2nd year on this property and it's doing well as I head into year 3. I use my sacrifice paddock anytime the pasture is even remotely wet - don't let hooves tear up your grass! I mow more often than most (before plants go to seed, as soon as tall patches start forming, sometimes as often as 7-10 days if we're having good rain in spring) but the resulting lush pasture with fat, shiny horses is worth it. Drag when rain is in the forecast, as rain helps dissolve the scattered manure.


Started offering grass hay in September, but my two didn't start eating it until October, and now they are chowing down since the grass finally turned brown. Should have green grass again by March and can generally stop feeding hay by end of April. Easy keeper currently gets 1/2 lb 10% protein pellet, old mare 2 lbs Triple Crown Senior twice a day, plus a flake of alfalfa every 3rd meal or so.
 
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