Transition to new grass, fescue warning, etc...
NEW GRASS AND ROUGHAGE
One of the many enjoyable events of spring is the greening of the grass. You will quickly notice our horses have less interest in the hay now. They think there is a bountiful harvest of grass in the pastures. While they are not supposed to be able to distinguish colors, they must be able to judge distance and realize the grass is growing. They would much rather spend their days chasing each new blade of grass than standing at the full hay feeder.
It is still important to keep some hay available. As you have noticed, the stools of the horse grazing pasture have become very soft. They will pile up like a cowpile. This is because of the low roughage in the new grass. The coarser the forage, the longer it takes to move through the bowel. The new grass, however, is very low in fiber and very high in moisture and takes very little time to make the trip.
A diet of fresh grass and grain can lead to digestive problems. The bowel full of fresh grass and/or grain makes up very little volume. It also moves rapidly through the bowel. The horse experiences a churning bowel which can lead to cramping. These mild colic signs may pass unnoticed. The results of this hyperactivity can be two-fold:
The cramping can lead to enough discomfort to cause the horse to roll to relieve itself. We all know what this can mean. If the roll is executed just right, a simple twist can occur and the horse will be in distress.
With hyperactivity, the intestines can crawl into each other, called an intesiception. This also causes a blockage.
Both situations cause a very dire situation and can lead to many anxious hours.
To prevent either of the above situations, just make available some long stem forages. The hay may need to sit around for a day or two before it is consumed, so offer it in a protected place where it will stay dry and not be trampled. As the fresh grass makes up more and more of the roughage part of the ration, the horses will search out the hay to provide bulk and the “tickle” they need for a healthy intestine. The dry hay absorbs some of the moisture. The bulk and coarseness will slow the bowel and stop the rumbling. The full bowel will be less likely to get in trouble.
As the grass matures, the need for hay will decrease dramatically. You can monitor this by watching the stool. From this point on, the hay you offer will have to be superior to the grass. That usually means a good quality legume.
For those with brood mares, the experts tell us fescue of any length will contain endophyte. Therefore, even though the grass is just starting, the pregnant mare should still be ‘dry lotted’ and only on a non-fescue grass hay or an alfalfa mix.
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