Spring Grass
-How Much? How Soon?-
by Agricultural Information Service

     It won't be long now before those first blades of grass begin poking through the soil in your pasture. After a winter of feeding hay, most horse owners typically rejoice at the sight of new growth, believing that the tender green shoots will be a tasty treat for their equine companions. But just how beneficial is the first forage of the season?

     Spring grass, which tends to come in very quickly, is higher in water content and lower in fiber than dry summer grass-which, incidentally, was the prevailing forage for our horses' wild forebears. Consequently, horses that consume the new growth in quantity are likely to experience watery stools or even diarrhea. Contrary to popular belief, the actual nutritional benefits of emerging grass, as well as its energy content, are significantly lower than those of later grasses. Moreover, spring grass has a higher protein content than other grasses, which is good for lactating mares, but can spell trouble for other horses. When an animal accustomed to a relatively dense winter regimen suddenly consumes a water, low-fiber, high protein diet, the resulting shock to the intestinal micro flora may lead to enteritis or colic.


     This does not mean, however, that your horse must be forbidden from grazing succulent spring pastures. As long as he has other roughage-be it remaining older growth surviving the winter or some clean hay-to complement the younger grass, he'll generally find the right balance on his own. Indeed, the greatest danger associated with spring grass is the potential for parasitic infection associated with it. Apply a clearing-out de-worming dose when the new growth first appears and de-worm regularly through the spring. Or immediately follow up your initial treatment with an every day de-wormer until summer.

 

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WORD OF CAUTION

Spring is also the season to guard against laminitis (also known as founder). Introduce your horse gradually to pasture. During the transition to rich spring grass, continue feeding hay and limit the amount of grazing. It's a great temptation to simply turn the horses out on grass as soon as possible, but if your horse does founder, he'll be compromised for the rest of his life.