With summer just around the corner and the weather beginning to get warmer, the ground is starting to dry up and become harder. In turn, this means that the grass is going to begin to suffer and it won’t be long before we see bare, brown paddocks as a common sight. So, with that in mind, what do hot and dry conditions mean for your horse and what horse feed can we give to ensure that they don’t miss out on any necessary aspects of their diet?
Feeding On Bald Paddocks
The hot and dry weather conditions reduce the amount of grass available as the lack of water inhibits the plants ability to grow. Insufficient fibre intake can result in digestive upsets or you may just see your horse start to drop weight and condition. If horses are grazing on sandy soil, an additional risk is that they consume more sand as they are grazing shorter grass that is closer to the ground. The build-up of sand in the gut can cause colic. If you are concerned about this issue you can feed a supplement, usually based on psyllium husk, which helps to clear sand out of the gut.
On a daily basis, at least 1.5% of a horse’s bodyweight should be fed as fibrous feeds. If your horse isn’t getting much grass from your paddocks as they are really bare, then you will need to consider feeding them additional forage for their digestive and behavioural health. To determine how much grass growth there actually is you can fence off a small area of your paddock and monitor it. If the grass grows then it means the rest of your paddock is growing too but it’s being eaten by your horse before you can see it! It’s important to allow your paddocks to rest, so the grass can grow. Therefore, make sure that you regularly move your grazing around throughout the year.
Getting Enough Nutrients
The grass in the UK is lacking in several key minerals such as copper and selenium but once the paddocks are bald, it’s even more unlikely that your horse will be getting adequate vitamins and minerals in their diet. This can lead to poor hoof growth and a dull coat and so you need to make sure that your horse is still receiving a balanced diet by either adding supplements into their feed or by feeding them a balancer.
Despite the grass appearing dead and very brown during hot and dry conditions, it doesn’t mean that it’s low in sugar. When grass is put under stress, it accumulates more sugar as the plant continues to photosynthesise when light is available. However, as the grass isn’t growing, this sugar is stored, instead of being used by the plant. The amount of grass on a bare paddock can limit the amount of sugar, but owners should take particular care with horses/ ponies that have underlying insulin dysregulation issues and are prone to laminitis.
Once we get some rain the grass starts to grow again and the flush that occurs means there is more grass for the horse to eat. This has tended to occur in the autumn and was known as the autumn flush but as our climate changes this can be an issue at any time. It is important to act fast and limit your horse’s access either by strip grazing or using a grazing muzzle. The horse still needs access to forage and so, somewhat ironically, you may have to give them hay as a low calorie alternative to fresh pasture at this time. Try to use a hay with less than 10-12% non-structural carbohydrates.
How To Feed The Poor Do-ers
For those that struggle to maintain their weight, when the grass disappears or is reduced significantly, it’s advisable to feed ad-lib forage instead. Both early cut hays and haylage are ideal as they are nutritious and relatively energy dense too. The bucket feed can be made up of high quality fibres such as sugar beet and alfalfa with high oil feeds such as micronized linseed. This keeps the sugar and starch levels down so is beneficial for gut health and helps to keep horses calm.
How To Feed The Good Do-ers
Despite the grass becoming sparser, many horses/ ponies that are overweight and still grazing on these paddocks won’t be losing weight. If the grass isn’t growing, you will need to ensure that your horse is receiving enough fibre, even if the horse/pony needs to lose weight. Ideally, you should feed good do-ers more fibrous hay, probably from a later cut, which will be less digestible and therefore lower calorie. You can also blend straw with the hay, as it is a low calorie fibre source and can be used to reduce the calorie intake. It’s advised that you feed up to 30% of straw if you combine the two.
Hopefully, these top tips will help you to feed your horse during hot and dry conditions, whether they are prone to laminitis, a good do-er or a poor do-er. If you require more information about what to feed your horse during the warmer months when the grass is sparse, get in touch with an equine nutritionist.