Ask the Vet – When should I let my horses out to graze in the spring?
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Ask the Vet – When should I let my horses out to graze in the spring?

August 14, 2019

SARAH: “When should I
start my horses on pasture as the spring comes? I’ve heard after the winter
the grass in the pastures gets too much sugar
and fructan and are not healthy for horses to graze on. When is the best time to start
letting horses out to graze?” DR LYDIA GRAY: That’s a
really useful question, because there are horses
who are, what I would call, carbohydrate intolerant, in
that, there are some horses you can throw on pasture
and they do fine. And then, there’s others
that set foot in a pasture and they develop laminitis,
which I think is her big worry, or colic or other things. So it a little bit
depends on where you live. And so we don’t know
where she lives, so– SARAH: We do not. DR LYDIA GRAY: OK so we’ll
just answer this for everyone. But the main thing is to know
when grasses accumulate sugar, because it’s the sugar and the
fructans that are the problem. So I forget what grade it
was, like some middle school year, where you learned
about photosynthesis. And then, the opposite
would be respiration. So what happens is plants use
sunlight and air and water to make sugars during the day. And then, they use those
sugars during the night to grow and reproduce and
do other plant business. I’m not sure what all. SARAH: Oh, plant business. That feels like a
good Pixar movie. DR LYDIA GRAY: Plant Business. So at the end of the day,
at the end of sunlight, is when the grass
is highest in sugar. It’s made the most that
it’s going to make, so that it can use– SARAH: And then, it’s going
to do it’s business all night. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. And then, at the end
of the evening when the sun starts again is
the lowest sugar level. So there’s a
website that I love. It’s called It’s run by Katy Watts. She’s not a veterinarian
or a nutritionist. She’s some sort of
agricultural scientist. There are actual
plant scientists. Yeah. That’s a thing. And she says she
recommends 3 AM-10 AM. SARAH: So just set
your alarm for 2:30. DR LYDIA GRAY: Her advice is– SARAH: Seems convenient. DR LYDIA GRAY: Maybe
SmartPak will do this, is someone needs to invent a
gate opener on a timer that opens up at 3:00 AM and then
herds them back in, I guess, and close the gate
at 10 AM or whatever. SARAH: Well, 10:00 AM, you
could be out there by then. I mean, even on a Sunday, guys. 10 AM’s not that bad. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. So and of course the grazing
muzzle is a good idea too. But– SARAH: And so fashionable. DR LYDIA GRAY: Oh my gosh. The look, when you
pad it up with things. You use different colors. I recommend a neon
yellow or green so that if they get
it off in the pasture you can just find it. SARAH: Do you know what I
like imagining, just now, is when I was kid, I
was in middle school, probably learning
about photosynthesis, and I had braces. And you would get
the rubber bands on your braces changed and you’d
like pink and purple for Easter and then you do like red
and green for Christmas. You should change Newman’s
fleeces for the season. So you can have like green and
orange for St. Patrick’s Day. You could do a lot. DR LYDIA GRAY: Well,
he does like his beer. So the other rule of
thumb that I will give you is, after the spring
transitions and the nights are consistently above
40 degrees Fahrenheit, then it’s safer to be on grass. When you have warm days, intense
sunlight, and cool evenings, below 40 degrees,
then the plants accumulate sugar during the day,
but it’s too cold to use it, so they continue to store it. SARAH: They don’t do plant
business when it’s cold. DR LYDIA GRAY: No. Plant business it closed. So they store and
store and store sugar. So that morning and the next
day, it’s loaded with sugar. So you want to wait until
the evenings are consistently above 40 degrees. And then, also, the
other rule of thumb. There’s so many rules of thumb. SARAH: That’s why you
have a lot of thumbs. DR LYDIA GRAY: That’s why you
introduce grazing gradually. So just because it’s now
warm days and warm nights, you don’t just throw them out. You start with 10 minutes,
15 minutes, whatever.

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