It took me a long time to realize that it’s not cruel to put domesticated horses out on grass. Silly, I know, but grain and hay ration precepts were drilled into my head from an early age. Insight from others, including a good number of vets, made me realize good pasture is a whole lot better for horses than what we humans have manufactured.
This year, we fenced in twenty-six acres. The horses have never looked better – and are happier to be able to enjoy a herd and feeding situation that is much more natural.
Feed and Familiarization
Sure, the broodmares, babies and performance athletes still need grain to help supplement their high energy drain, but the rest of the gang is fine eating for sixteen hours, then getting a daily handful of grain when they come into their stalls when called.
It’s important to ensure you acclimate your equines to grazing slowly. You don’t want to risk founder or colic. Start a horse that hasn’t been on grass with about ½ hour the first day. You can increase pasture time ½ hour per day until you build up to six hours. After that, they should be OK for 24/7 turnout.
Horses need shelter, interestingly more so in the summer than winter. Bugs and the sun are more troubling than cold, rain or snow (although protection from high winds is essential in frigid temperatures).
You can build a run-in shed, or order one (or more, depending on the size of your herd). Woodtex (http://www.woodtex.com) offers an affordable and sturdy structure with customized specifications. The only problem we found with these structures is they use pine for the exterior (although oak interior kickboards are included in their standard product), so chewing damage can be an issue. Of course, you’ll probably need to be in the NE USA unless you’re willing to pay huge shipping fees, but we’ve found this company to be outstanding to work with (and get no kickback for mentioning them).
Water is critical, and it needs to be fresh. If you can’t run water to the paddocks, see if there is a nearby town that sells water. We discovered water three miles away that fills our 325-gallon tank for $1.50. Even with the $300 or so investment in the tank and the gas to power the truck for water pick up, we figure to recoup quickly given the energy costs to power the pump and water system, along with minimizing the drain on the well. Plus, we can easily drive the pickup to each paddock to dump water in the tanks (we affixed a heavy duty water release on/off handle and attached a three-inch hose for quick flow from the tank into the tubs).
Know Your Horse
Of course, for some breeds and health issues with particular horses, grass feed is a bad idea, but for most, quality pasture forage is a cost-effective alternative that makes for a happier, healthier horse.