Manage spring and early summer grazing

Managing your pasture could prevent founder in horses.

Spring and early summer pastures offer lush grazing for your horses and can be a blessing in disguise. It is nice to see all that green grass and your horses grazing so contentedly, but it may cause some severe problems. The lush grazing that can result in a rapid intake of starches or frutans (a sugar) stored in pasture grasses can cause laminitis. Laminitis, commonly called founder, is a swelling of the tissues that connect the hoof wall to the coffin bone. Horses affected by founder will show extreme lameness. Mild cases can be treated successfully, but the success will depend on the severity of the founder and early diagnosis and treatment.

Spring introduction to pasture may be the cause of founder, but there are other causes to consider as well, such as heavy exercise on a hard surface, grain overload, retained placenta or colic. All or any of these may also be associated with spring. If you suspect founder in your horse call your veterinarian at once to begin treatment. It is very likely your farrier may also have to become involved early on in the treatment. Depending on the severity of the founder and the treatments, the recovery can vary from full and complete recovery to a life time of problems and lameness in the unfortunate horse. A “let’s wait and see attitude” may close the window into successful treatment, so don’t hesitate if you suspect founder.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” fits horses very accurately. If it looks like it might break, it probably will; if the fence may not keep in the horse, it certainly will not; and managing your pasture can avoid the chance of pasture founder. Generally speaking, one or two acres of well-managed pasture will provide the forage needs of one horse for the summer. Weeds and fertility will need to be managed, as well as a rotation grazing system set up. The pasture should be divided into two or three sections (or more depending on size), grazing should start when the grass is three to four inches tall and it should not be grazed below two or three inches. In early summer, the sections would be rotated frequently to avoid overgrowth, and in mid- to late-summer the sections rotated more slowly. The most important part of such a plan is to have a sacrifice lot or area to use as a control to limit lush grazing and, later, to avoid overgrazing. Supplement feeding of hay in your sacrifice lot is necessary to avoid overgrazing and damaging the pasture and turning it into another, larger non- productive sacrifice lot. Managing the sections and supplement feeding in the sacrifice area, will allow the pasture to be much more productive and reduce the amount of hay you will have to feed over the course of the spring to fall pasture season.  

For more information on this topic, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Special thanks to Tom Guthrie for his contribution to this article.

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