Autumn & Spring Grass Issues

Autumn grass growth can adversely affect some horses!

Autumn and (Spring) grass can cause a lot of problems for horses when they eat these short green shoots. After testing some grass in a paddock with short green growing grass recently the results came back as:

1. High potassium (3.4%) low sodium (0.138%) Translates to a stress on the horse to excrete the excess potassium and conserve sodium (as this is not enough to run the metabolism of the horse). Hence the recommendation to add salt to feeds.

2. High Nitrates (nearly 1700 mgs/kg which translates for a LOT when the horse grazes all day!) The process of excreting these excess nitrates uses up valuable calcium and magnesium. Eliminating the nitrates by avoiding your horse eating this very potent grass is the far safer option.

3. A very high DCAD (494) when ‘Under 200’ is what is thought to be in the safe range for horses. You can’t feed enough salt and GrazeEzy to balance a DCAD as high as this! The DACD is the Dietary Cation Anion Difference which means the difference between the number of positive ions (mainly potassium) to negative ions (mainly chloride)

4. Interestingly the sugars were only 15%, still too high for laminitis prone horses and ponies but not nearly as high as some hay I have seen which was 23%.
You can see why sugars are only one aspect of pasture that can adversely affect your horse.

Shoots like this can pop up quickly in Autumn (and Spring) and represent a sudden change in diet for the horse if he is left out there to graze them without supplementary roughage and appropriate minerals being added to his rations. Consuming such unbalanced grass without ‘help’ can be disastrous for health and behaviour especially those equines prone to laminitis and head-flicking.

All forage is inherently ‘unequal’ with a High DCAD – too many positives (compared to negatives) Salt and GrazeEzy supply additional negatives to help balance this up but if the grass has a sudden increase due to weather conditions, or application of fertilzer, sometimes even the feeding of more GrazeEzy will not suffice. You may have to take him completely off the grass temporarily because you can’t feed enough to balance it up – usually this gets the desired result pretty quickly.

The reason grass has a high DCAD is because it loves potassium but has no requirement for salt – especially vegetative grass. The more mature the grass, the lower the DCAD.

If you have your forage analysed it is a good idea to include the DCAD. A reading of under 200 is deemed to be non-problematic for the livestock grazing it. The ‘problem grass’ (meaning grass consumed by horses with serious problems as in head flicking) analyses we have conducted over the years have a DCAD of 300 and upwards – with those Autumn shoots we analysed a few weeks ago being almost 500!

A horse might manage to excrete the excess potassium and somehow conserve enough sodium that it wouldn’t develop any obvious issues for a time, but eventually they reach tipping point where their own self-regulating systems (involving the regulatory hormones) start to fail and that’s where you see the effects in their health and behaviour – you have then created a Grass Affected horse.

If you’ve got 100 acres of scruffy under grazed hill country at your disposal for your horse, he will do just fine, but if your horse lives on a ‘green carpet’ all year round, he will most likely become sensitized.