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Adjusting to Pasture

I just recently purchased a 15-year-old gelding. He has only been on hay feed, not grass pasture. We’ve had him for almost a week now and have slowly been putting him in the grass pasture. We started at 40 minutes, then that night his poop was a bit wet. Then went to 15-20 minutes per day. What would be the appropriate time and for how long before he can go 24/7 on pasture? – via

Thumbs up to you for knowing that introducing a horse to pasture – especially one who’s stressed from having his whole life suddenly uprooted – must be done gradually over time and with close observation. I’ve seen a variety of “pasture introduction” schedules over the years, from starting at 10 minutes per day and increasing no more than 10 minutes every day, to starting at an hour and increasing in hour increments every day. To some degree it depends on the individual horse and the individual pasture, as some horse’s digestive systems are hardier than others (just like some people’s) and some pastures are riskier than others. And we won’t even get into the whole time-of-year, time-of-day, and species-of-grass discussions!

What you’re doing already is great – paying close attention to your horse and to the quality of his manure and backing him off from the green stuff when he clearly shows you the length of time was too much. Most sources agree with your method, that is, starting at 15 minutes and adding another 15 minutes each day. Once you’re up to four hours (which should take about two weeks), then full turnout is probably okay, but it’s also okay to stick with the conservative approach and increase daily turnout to five hours, six hours, seven hours, and so on.

Here are some other tips, tricks, and things to think about:
• Because spring pastures especially may need as slow an introduction, consider hand grazing your horse in an area of YOUR choosing (hint: this also avoids the issue of having to catch a loose horse that may not want to come back onto the dry lot after 15 or 30 minutes!)
• Continue to provide the same high quality hay the horse has been on during the transition period.
• Try not to change the type or amount of grain while introducing to pasture.
• For an extra layer of security, turn your horse out in a grazing muzzle to slow down his eating rate.
• Add a digestive support supplement with ingredients like prebiotics, probiotics, yeast, enzymes, and even a hind gut buffer to help his system (and all the microorganisms that live in it!) accommodate to the new feedstuff and maintain normal, healthy function.
Pasture maintenance, parasite control, and pasture analysis (to determine the sugar, starch, fructan, protein, energy, and mineral levels in your grass) are also relevant to this discussion, and I encourage you to read everything you can and speak to the extension folks in your area for their expert advice.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

Posted in Ask the Vet, Misc. Topics

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2 comments on “Adjusting to Pasture
  1. Deb Johnson says:

    The time of day can make a big difference in sugar content in the grass, as well. Early morning or after sunset is usually best as sugar levels are lower. CRS Gold is a great supplement that helps with digestion in the hind gut of all that sugar, and also help with ulcers. Grazing muzzles help too. They have a big round bale to snack on to keep forage available 24/7.

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hello, Deb! That’s great to hear that you’re working hard to support your horses’ health! You’re absolutely correct that time of day can make a difference in terms of the amount of sugar that a pasture contains. Just remember that when the sun is out during the day grasses (and other plants) are using that sunlight to manufacture sugar, so right after sunset is actually not an ideal time to graze a horse if you’re worried about too much sugar in their diet. At that point, the grass has had all day to collect sugar. During the night is when grass will use up the sugar it’s stored for energy, so grass will most likely be lowest in sugar content significantly after sunset – basically in the middle of the night, through the early morning (before grass has had a chance to store a significant amount of sugar again). We know, that’s generally not the most convenient time to be turning out horses! But it is another piece of the puzzle to keep in mind when planning your horse’s turnout schedule.

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