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Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition

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 Dr. Getty 


Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition
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Re: pasture

Hello Elizabeth,

You are wise to consider the type of pasture before planting. Most grains, oats, wheat, rye, are too high in starch to safely feed to horses that are prone toward insulin resistance (IR), and hence laminitis (founder).

Grasses such as brome, orchardgrass, and timothy are good choices.

But any grass is higher in sugar when exposed to stressors such as cold, drought, and over-grazing. In the early spring and late fall when the night time temperatures fall below 40 degrees F, the grass does not let go of sugar during the night and therefore, is too high in sugar and starch for IR horses.

Grass that is exposed to sunlight all day will have the highest sugar and starch level in the late afternoon. So, early morning, when the overnight temperatures are above 40 degrees, is safest.

Some folks plant some alfalfa mixed with grasses. This is fine and unlike the commonly held misconception, alfalfa in moderation is not only safe for IR horses but actually boosts the overall protein quality, making horses better able to repair and build tissue, maintain a healthy immune system, and recover from performance strain. Keep alfalfa at no more than 30% of your total pasture.

I hope this is helpful. Thank you for writing about this important subject.

All the best,

Dr. Getty

I am re-planting a small pasture in Washington state near Seattle. We only let the horses graze about 1 hour a day because the grass is so lush and we're afraid of founder. What is the best type of seed mix to choose for this location and to protect the horses from too much sugar?

Thank you.

Where are you from? Bayfield, CO