Horses That Graze on Pasture 24/7 Eat More Slowly

Horse Pasture

Horse Eating

By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D

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 1100 lb (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 per 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.

Dr. Juliet Getty is an internationally respected equine nutritionist available for private consultations and speaking engagements. At www.gettyequinenutrition.com, sign up for her informative — and free — monthly newsletter, Forage for Thought, read articles, join her nutrition forum, enroll in upcoming teleseminars and purchase previously recorded events. Contact Dr. Getty directly at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com

Photo: Flickr/Pete Markham

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