If you let your horse out to graze on pasture for only a few hours each day, and provide hay the rest of the time, you've likely noticed how he approaches the grass like a vacuum cleaner, barely lifting his head the entire time he is outside. On the other hand, horses who graze on pasture 24/7 are more relaxed, eating less grass at a slower pace, taking time to rest and interact with buddies.
Researchers at North Carolina State University were interested in just how much pasture horses consume at varying combinations of pasture and hay availability. What they found confirms what we have all witnessed. At varying levels of pasture turnout, an 1,100-pound (500 kg) horse will consume the following amounts of grass dry matter (all horses were given free-choice hay when removed from pasture):
- 24 hours/day: 0.77 lb/hour (0.35 kg/hr)
- 9 hours/day: 1.32 lb/hr (0.6 kg/hr)
- 6 hours/day: 1.65 lb/hr (0.75 kg/hr)
- 3 hours/day: 2.2 lb/hr (1.0 kg/hr)
The less time you allow for pasture grazing, the more excited your horse will be at the opportunity to have fresh grass, and he will eat nearly three times faster than if he had access to pasture 24/7.
Juliet M. Getty, PhD, is an internationally respected, independent equine nutritionist who believes that optimizing horse health comes from understanding how the horse’s physiology and instincts determine the correct feeding and nutrition practices. She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements.Getty provides a world of useful information for the horse person at www.gettyequinenutrition.com. Sign up for her informative, free monthly newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. And for the growing community of horse owners and managers who allow their horses free choice forage feeding, Getty has set up a special forum as a place for support, celebrations, congratulations and idea sharing. Share your experiences at jmgetty.blogspot.com. Reach Getty directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.