View Full Version : Grass and Snow - Oh no

Dec. 18, 2010, 06:29 PM
My horses have been on grass all summer, into fall, and now it's winter.

Hoping that with snow on top they'd be limited in the amount they are able to snarf is not working out. Both are fat as pigs on the way to slaughter.

So I am with holding hay, and I have them on dry lot during the day, and out to pasture all night.

Question: does the risk of founder go away after frost/freeze/snow cover?:confused::confused:

I can't find anything out about this and DO NOT want to learn the hard way.

Dec. 18, 2010, 06:47 PM
If the frost/cold is such that is not conducive to grass growth, then yes, this type of grass is just fine - actually it is very good for them to graze. It is very low in sugar (the healthiest choice) and essentially becomes "standing hay". We let our horses graze on grass year-round and supplement hay and/or hot beet pulp mash with minerals to fit their body condition and the weather. The mares go out each morning after a feed (most leave their hay unfinished) and go out to dig and graze and wander back periodically throughout the day to finish their breakfast. At around 4 p.m., Granada brings all the girls in to our smaller holding paddock and they stare at the house, so that means it's dinner time. I lock them in that paddock each night or they stay locked in if a storm is being called for. There's still plenty of room in that paddock to move around and get out of each other's hair, but no grass.

You're in Michigan, so you know what it's like to get some brutal conditions as do we here in Alberta. I find the grazing keeps the horses occupied and it is the healthiest activity for them to engage in during the winter. Certainly, horses who are digging and grazing are not standing at the fences chewing! And the constant grazing keeps things moving nicely through their hind gut.

I haven't had colic in years and years (knock on wood) and I'm pretty sure this is why.

If you don't get huge amounts of snow, it's okay to keep them on the grass and feed minimal hay - just enough to keep their condition, and as long as there is plenty of grass available. They do that here in Alberta all the time and most horses come through quite well. And it's good that your Piggies go into winter plump as that is true to natural cycle (gain weight in fall for being fat into winter and gradually trim down towards a better, healthy weight for spring) and fat is their best warmth protection. Just watch closely if they start to trim down too fast which signals a need to supplement with more hay. A body condition of 4 to 4+ during winter in very cold regions is optimal. In warmer regions, score of 3 in winter is good.

Dec. 18, 2010, 06:51 PM
I always thought that too - out on grass = good for horse. But this is the fattest I have ever seen our horses. Even on the 12 hrs dry lot, 12 hrs grass routine.

And one mare is farting - which to me is like a warning signal to cut her back even more!

I've never had this problem in winter before!

So is the fear of founder over or not?

Dec. 18, 2010, 06:56 PM
If your grass has gone dormant, there is no sugar in the grass, so very little chance of grass-caused founder. The standing grass would have even less sugar than your hay does. If you have little snow (less than a foot), the activity of making them move around and paw for feed should help them lose a bit of weight. Just keep making sure they have plenty of heated water.

You need to assess your horses' body condition - 4 is good to go into winter in areas that can get brutal snow/cold conditions and they wouldn't be in fear of founder.

4+ is seriously fat and 5 is critically obese and so a diet plan even in winter would be in order for these conditions.

If you plan to just let them eat the grass, you should also put out a noncalorie free-choice mineral tub as the grass also would have little nutrients.

Dec. 18, 2010, 07:01 PM

Thought you might find this helpful.

Right now, all of my mares are hovering between 3 and 4 and so I feed hay but they still get out for exercise and grazing. Grazing through snow is more of a challenge and qualifies as exercise. Right now, we have about 8 inches of snow on the ground with drifts that are much deeper. It's a bit of work for them to get to the grass, but they seem to like it.

If your horses are obese, you could try letting them out to graze (without a hay breakfast) on the sugarless grass all day. Then at night, you could lock them in a dry paddock for a very small hay feed for the night. Or, you could let them work for their grass 24/7 until you notice their body condition getting to be about 3+ and then offer more hay to maintain condition.

Katy Watts
Dec. 18, 2010, 07:42 PM
If your grass has gone dormant, there is no sugar in the grass,

This is just plain wrong. Here's data generated in Canada.


See table 7.

WSC loss in standing forage is gradual through the winter. Depends on how high it got before it went completely brown, and how much rain and snow washed it out. If ANY parts are still green, like down at the base, they are very high in sugar. Not available to cattle that cannot graze close, but a favorite treat for horses with teeth top and bottom.

But your horses opinion is far more important then anyone on the internet. If they are too fat, then they are getting too much to eat.

Dec. 18, 2010, 07:52 PM
I always thought that too - out on grass = good for horse. But this is the fattest I have ever seen our horses. Even on the 12 hrs dry lot, 12 hrs grass routine.

The Virginia Tech MARE Center did a study that showed that, unless you limit their pasture time to less than 4 hours, reducing turnout time doesn't reduce their grass intake. They just eat faster when they ARE in the pasture.

So reducing from 24 hrs to 12 hrs of turnout won't make much difference in the consumption

Dec. 18, 2010, 08:03 PM
Must be a different scale then I know, because 5 is ideal on the scale I know....? 3/4 is considered on the thin side.

Dec. 18, 2010, 09:20 PM
No I'm not entirely wrong. I would suppose it would also depend on the type of grass, which I neglected to say. We have brome and wild prairie grasses here on our farm, nonirrigated. All grasses have headed and have turned golden by mid August. The whole grass stem down to the ground is brown by mid September which is when the nights start getting very frosty. And by mid October we often have had our first snow or two which usually melts and by November the snow is on the ground permanently until spring thaw which is sometime around mid April, although still have snow falling sometimes into May. So the standing grass that we have here is very low in sugar - and I still have 2, 5-acre fields that stand 3-4 feet high which will be for March-April-May turnout. Our horses will lose weight if left on standing grass during the winter, whereas they maintain better if supplemented with hay. This suggests they are NOT getting high-sugar feed. The old laminitic mare that I picked up to have as a companion buddy has never foundered on my pastures and she's out in every season; however, she has lost her crestiness and the lumpy-dumpy butt and big abdomen, and that's what grass has done for her.

So a better statement would be to know what type of grass you have, whether it is irrigated (some nonirrigated grass is actually higher in sugar content due to stress), and how the dormancy has progressed. I doubt in Michigan that the grass would stay any sort of green above the ground. The winter is just too harsh there. I would say grass in some locations Ontario, BC, the east and west coasts would stay somewhat green despite snow fall. But not in the northern prairie or the very cold weather States such as Michigan, N.Dakota, Colorado, Minnesota, etc.

The scale I'm following is 0-2 varying states of thinness with 0 being near death, 3 is good, 4 is overweight and 5 is obese. Standard in Canada as per the link I posted.