Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month web segment that is designed to add to the education of footcare professionals when it comes to effectively feeding the hoof. The goal of this web-exclusive feature is to zero in on specific areas of hoof nutrition and avoid broad-based articles that simply look at the overall equine feeding situation.
This edition is sponsored by the W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine) of East Longmeadow, Mass.
Q: I have a horse that is susceptible to laminitis, and understand the concerns with spring grazing, but do I need to worry about fall grazing?
By Juliet Getty, PhD
As temperatures begin to dip, help your horses make the transition to winter feeding in good shape. That means being informed about the sugar and starch that lurk in fall pasture growth.
With horses that are overweight, insulin resistant or suffer from equine Cushing’s disease, your footcare clients know about keeping them off of spring grasses. The non-structural carbohydrate (NSC — sugars, starch and fructans) content is too high for free-choice pasture grazing to be safe, increasing the risk for laminitis.
But don’t think you’re out of the woods once spring is over. True, summer is safer, but as early fall nights cool down below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for the majority of the night, the dangerous carbohydrate levels once again increase.
Grass accumulates NSC as it is exposed to sunlight. The levels reach a peak in the late afternoon. During the night hours, the grass uses this fuel for itself, and by morning, the levels are at their lowest. But cold nights prevent grass from using as much NSC, resulting in a higher NSC concentration remaining during the day.
Don’t be fooled by the brown grass you see in the late fall. Spread it apart and you’ll likely see some green at the base, which is high in sugar and starch. If it hasn’t rained in a while, your grass will look dried out, but be careful as dry grass can actually have a higher NSC percentage than long, lush-looking grass.
Testing your pasture every couple of weeks may be a good option this time of year, especially if your horse is otherwise at high risk for laminitis. Though just a snapshot of what is happening to the grass at that moment in time, consistent testing will provide a trend that may offer some peace of mind in determining when the grass has gone dormant for the winter.
Juliet M. Getty, PhD is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide U.S. and international following. Located in Lewisville, Texas, her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices. Dr. Getty’s goal is to empower the horse person with the confidence and knowledge to provide the best nutrition for his or her horse’s needs.
Click here to read Part 2 of the September 15, 2017 installment: How do I know hoof supplements contain the correct levels of the essential vitamins, amino acids and minerals?