We knew it would happen, weeks of scorching temperatures and dry days have finally been interrupted by rain. The now sunny, wet weather provides optimal conditions for grass growth which presents a different set of challenges to the recent drought.
Rapid grass growth
Warm wet weather and bright sunshine makes for rapid growth. Fructan (stored sugar) previously ‘trapped’ in the stem during the drought will now be used for leaf growth. Although your grass may soon contain more water and less sugar per mouthful, a significant increase in availability increases the risk of weight gain, laminitis and potentially colic – particularly for those who gorge following a period of reduced intake.
Tips for managing grass intake
- Turning out for short periods may lead to gorging – in one study ponies were seen to consume almost 1% of their bodyweight (almost two-thirds of their minimum daily forage requirement) in just 3 hours, despite having been fed ad lib hay!
- Provided your grass is long enough, a grazing muzzle may prove to be an effective way of managing weight gain whilst still providing valuable turnout time. On average, grazing muzzles have been shown to reduce intake by 77% in ponies turned out for 3 hours, and reduce the rate of weight gain when worn for 10 out of 23 hours at pasture. However results vary between individuals and in some cases, horses and ponies may still gain weight when wearing a muzzle for part of the day. Muzzles may also lead to frustration so monitor your horse’s behaviour, weight and body condition score closely. Watch our video for more advice on using a grazing muzzle safely.
- Consider turning out at night when levels of WSC (water soluble carbohydrate = sugar + fructan) are likely to be lower. Without sunlight grass cannot photosynthesize to produce ‘new sugar’ and when the weather is warm, fructan stored in the stem is used for growth overnight.
- Very laminitis prone horses and ponies may need to be removed from pasture completely and be provided with a low WSC hay or an appropriate forage replacer.
Don’t rely on hay soaking for laminitics!
Forage for laminitics should ideally contain less than 10% WSC but levels in hay can be more than double this. Although soaking can help to reduce WSC, results are highly variable and cannot guarantee suitability for laminitics. Ideally have your forage analysed and choose a low WSC hay over a low WSC haylage.
Tip: Although potentially less effective at reducing WSC, reduce soaking time to a maximum of 3 hours in hot weather to reduce the risk of increase bacteria.
Consider forage replacers for laminitics
If forage analysis isn’t practical or you are unable to source a low WSC hay, consider feeding a hay replacer that is low in both starch and sugar. Where possible, short chopped fibres such as SPILLERS Happy Hoof or SPILLERS Happy Hoof Molasses Free are ideal as they help to extend eating/ chewing time.
Provide a balanced diet
Although your grass may soon begin to look ‘lush’, it is still unlikely to provide a balanced diet. Balancers are the ideal way to ensure that good doers receive the additional vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in grazing, without compromising their waistline.
For more advice on managing your horse/ pony now the grass is growing contact the SPILLERS Care-Line