During spring and fall, the grass on pasture contains more sugars or simple carbohydrates compared to during summer and winter, and this can complicate the feeding routines of a horse. This can be a bit of a problem especially if you are feeding your horse with grain. When fall comes, it may be necessary for you to change your horse’s feeding routine to avoid any digestive upsets, including ulcers in horses and colic.
All About the Microbial Flora
The large intestine of a horse is basically a site for fermentation. Hind-gut microorganisms are responsible for breaking down the nutrients from food. Your horse makes use of the byproducts of the breakdown, which include fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Each specific internal microorganism will need a special type of food in order to survive the intestinal environment. Some are good with complex fibers while others thrive on simple sugars. There are also those that work on the protein, while others breakdown the byproducts further. When these natural microorganisms have a sufficient and constant supply of food to ferment, they can work better with the changes. However, when there is a large amount of food to ferment in one sitting, there would be a sudden increase on the type of organisms needed to ferment that certain nutrient. This will lead to the imbalance of the intestinal environment, paving way to the growth of a certain type of microorganisms while letting others die off. If this happens, your horse can suffer from gas, diarrhea, digestive ulcers, and even as serious as colic.
The Facts on Foraging
You may already know that when you start, change, or increase the amount of grain to feed rapidly, you are contributing to stomach upset. However, you may be surprised that changing your hay feeding can be as bad as well. The large intestine is the site of hay digestion. Even if you give your horse the same type of hay, it is important to know that not all types are created equal. Growth conditions, cuttings and various strains of hay may differ in the level of rapidly fermentable nutrients.
Changing to different hay types may even be harder on your horse’s digestive system. The pasture grass may also change in composition during spring and fall as it could grow rapidly and go through a significant increase in the carbohydrate contents. Young, growing pastures contain high levels of protein which can also cause upset stomach.
Guidelines for Fall Feeding
Here are guidelines on how to avoid feeding-related stomach upsets.
- When giving grain, do it gradually.
- Allow a three-day interval for every increase in grain feeding to allow intestinal microorganisms to adapt to the changes.
- Do not feed beyond 4 pounds of grain in one go.
- When changing hay, do it gradually. Replace old hay with new and allow an interval of three days when doing the replacement.
- Let your horse get used to lush pastures slowly, especially if grass is growing at a rapid rate during spring and fall.
- If your horse is feeding on young pasture grass, give it hay so it can have a supply of complex and slowly fermented fiber, which may be lacking in grasses.
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