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Feeding for the Winter
Be careful in turning out to pasture...

There is a bright side to every situation, and regarding the very dry weather we have been experiencing, that bright spot is for the horses at the fat farm.  Unless you have been living a little better life than the rest of us, you have experienced several weeks of dry weather.  This has dried the grass which in turn reduces its digestibility.

When the forageís digestibility drops, itís "lignin" or fiber content increases.  This mature forage is lower in moisture as well.  So what we have is a coarse grass that is more filler than nutritious.  This of course is referring to our more common grasses, such as fescue and other common non-legume forages.

If, however, you have clipped the field to prevent the heads from forming, you may still have green grass.  The green grass, while less digestible than it was a month ago, is still pretty nutritious.  If your fields are green and lush, they are probably pretty digestible.  We would suggest not putting the heavier horses on this grass until it has time to mature.

The horse that is heavy and at risk of foundering must be kept off the lush, highly digestible grass we see in the spring and fall.  Of course, while he is in confinement at the fat farm Dobbin has only been fed a coarse, low quality hay.  This roughage serves to occupy his time and keep him from resorting to cribbing or some other vice for entertainment.  It also keeps the bowel full so Dobbin is not at risk of intestinal problems.

If the grass is turning brown, it is maturing.  Once grass starts forming seed heads, its growth slows dramatically.  This grass will make coarse, poorly digested roughage similar to the hay you have been feeding.

If you do decide to turn your horse out on the mature grass, a few precautions are in order:
First, evaluate your grass to be sure it is not lush, green, and still growing.  This could be the situation if you have enjoyed some rainfall.
Next, evaluate the type of grass you have in your pasture.  Ideally, from a fat horse perspective, you will see mature stems of grass with few leaves, almost like a miniature forest with very little undergrowth.  This pasture would be fine for the heavy horse.
If there is a heavy undergrowth, then the pasture has other grasses or legumes. The legumes (such as clover) are especially rich in protein.  If you have been receiving rain, they will still be green.  If you have not had rain, they will be brown and dry.  Even the dry clovers are nutritious and should be avoided by the heavy horse.

If you decide your pasture is OK for Dobbin, give him a feeding of hay each day before you turn him out.
Turn him out after the dew has dried and leave him out for the day.
Put him up at night and repeat the process the next day.
Do this for a week to allow his system to adjust to the different grass. Then turn him out full time.

Remember, when the rains start again in the fall, the grass will start growing again.  Dobbin will need to return to confinement for a couple of months until the cold weather slows the growth of the grass.  Maintaining the heavy horse to prevent him from foundering requires a little effort, but the time spent is only a fraction of the time required to treat one that actually does founder.

I hope the above ramblings help you decide whether you should or should not turn Dobbin out.  He will be much happier out on grass, but his health cannot be put at risk for this reason alone.  If you are unsure about the grasses in your pasture, consult the local Extension Office or call us.

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