I have two VERY easy keeper Morgans, both older, potentially both with early IR/Cushings, but hasn't been confirmed yet (waiting until the spring). As of recently I have the opportunity to have them out grazing full time. I live in the south, so live grass is available year-round. At this point in time, the grass quality is equivalent to what I'd see in August or so in the north. Still mostly alive and green, but not as "vibrant" as in the spring. However, these are grass fields that haven't been grazed on for months so the grass is full and thick, but they have been mowed regularly to keep from overgrowing. There was a small patch of clover (20' diameter) that I mowed down to golf green length and they've already removed the rest of it.
I've been easing them into it (30 min, hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, etc) and am up to 3 hours. The problem is I've hit the point where I don't have 4+ continuous hours except on the weekends, so I cannot continue this upward trend, unless I do three hours on a Friday, and ratchet them up over the weekend (e.g. 6 hours on Saturday, 9 hours on Sunday) until Monday when I'm gone at work for 12 hours. I cannot come home during the day to bring them in/take off grazing muzzles, and do not have neighbors/friends in the area who can do so easily.
It has been a decade since they've lived on pasture, and I am rusty as to how to handle this!
So, questions are:
1) Is it even possible to maintain these guys on straight pasture grass, considering their propensity to IR/Cushings? I'd much rather them out grazing fresh grass, but worry about it being too much.
1a) If you do keep your horses on pasture, what do you do in the spring (which, around here, is not far away) when the grass starts growing again? Do you have to start from square one with the grazing for 30 min, 1 hour, 2 hour, etc? If I remember correctly, we did nothing differently back in the day, but those were the days when I was blissfully ignorant to all the problems that could occur, so wanted to throw this question out there.
2) Is there a point where grazing for 12 hours is no different than grazing for 9 hours, or 6, or 4 in terms of risk of founder/colic? At what point do you stop "monitoring" how much time they're out grazing? Or do you carefully ease them into it; so adding an hour every day/every other day until you're at the max they'll be turned out?
I can't answer all your questions, but definitely when they are used to grazing 6 hours you can let them graze full time.
As for dealing with the fact that they are easy keepers, you might need to use grazing muzzles on them.
Also, *in general* you don't have to do anything in the spring if your horses are used to being out on grass. However, if your horses are prone to laminitis you might need to be more careful. Katy Watts on this board has a website (safergrass.org) that is a wealth of information. Definitely have a look there.
I have a Welsh-Arab cross pony who's a very easy keeper. I do a kind of trace clip in winter to keep his weight down so that he can eat the free choice hay without ballooning (he gets literally 1/4 cup of grain at mealtimes so he doesn't feel left out when the others are eating). In the summer I found a routine of muzzle on at night and off during the day worked to keep him at a good weight on pasture.
I'm sure others will chime in on your other questions. I envy you your live grass today!
I am going to say you can let them graze, but you need to manage the time. Are the horses getting used at all? Horses being used can work off what they eat, so they don't turn into blimps, overload their systems. Our horses in heavy work, not Morgans, still don't need 24 hours of grazing on my good pastures. Ours get used about 5 days a week, doing milage a lot of that time, 5-10 miles an outing, still don't need 24 hours to stay sleek and fit. Ours go out half days, inside half days. Grain is in tiny portions, they just don't NEED more food. No ribs showing here even with all the work.
I am a huge fan of grazing horses. HOWEVER, very few can not blimp out on good grazing if you leave them out on the field 24 hours a day. Morgans as a breed, are well known for being thrifty, easy keepers on almost nothing. Turning them loose in good grazing all day and night is asking for trouble, founder among them. This is even if they have been grazing some hours daily. Modern horses are not wild horses covering 20+ miles a day on sparse grazing. Wild horses use up their calories, while domesticated horses seldom do.
I would think that your horses on pasture, their time should continue to be limited. You can try doing 12 hours daily, with horses off the pasture 12 hours, dry lotted or stalled for that time. I would think an even shorter grazing time would be healthier for them. Maybe let them out 4 hours, locked up 6 hours, then out another 4 hours, then confined until the next day.
The truth is that horses on good grazing just don't NEED THAT MUCH FOOD over a 24 hour period. Not being worked a couple hours a day, reduces the NEED for feed even further. They are not using up what they eat in any fashion!!
If you think they need to chew, you could buy some poor quality hay, toss out a flake during confinement times. I would imagine they don't eat it, waste almost all of it. So don't pay much to get it, since it will be doing nothing for them.
Morgans need to be closely managed, like ponies. They gain weight looking at PHOTOS of food! Full turnout on good grazing is way too much food for them in a day. Even with grazing muzzles, I would bet they could eat more than they needed on full turnout. And being THINKING Morgans, they would probably have the muzzles off in a heartbeat. Tricky rascals at learning what you DON'T want done!!
Morgans need to be closely managed, like ponies. They gain weight looking at PHOTOS of food!
Ours would practically have cellulite during the summer on grass alone. Our last old guy died at 36, even then he was still a bit chubbos even tho he ended up dropping almost everything he 'chewed' by that pt.
My Morgans would eat themselves to death on 12hr of good grazing daily. Their limit is 6 hrs. (3hrs in the AM and PM). And a big flake of big stemmy grass hay around dark. That is it. Cuz they are food obsessive hogs that never come up for air if there is green goodness around.
Being possible IR or Cush you need to be even more careful.
Do you happen to know what species of grass?
Get some Graze On or Pasture Pro and nuke whats left of the clover. IR/Cush horses simply should not have it.
Bagged hay in a small hole hay net would be a wiser choice for the 12hrs you are at work...not all that time out on pasture. Moderation! Everything in moderation with an easy keeper Morgan.
1. Dry, brown, stressed, mowed or heavily grazed pasture is not necessarily lower in sugars than lush, green pasture.
2. Easing horses into grazing is usually always a good idea, but I'd be really leery of leaving chubby-breed types out on grass full time, even if it's really convenient.
3. GRAZING MUZZLES.
4. Look into, if this is an option for you, strip grazing or a "pasture paradise" (I think that is what it's called) method of using temporary fencing to limit grazing to specific areas.
5. GRAZING MUZZLES.
6. Increased exercise can make it safer for horses to graze more, to a point. The *only* time I can keep my Irish mare on grass for more than 4-6 hours without her becoming a fat beast is when she's working, and HARD.
Thanks all, you have confirmed a lot of what I have thought. I'll continue to limit their grazing until I have the vet out for the IR/Cushings test in the spring, at which point ill talk to her about their specific needs.
We live in a northern climate. Their grazing is restricted to 4 hours a day. Less if we've opened a new pasture (in the rotation). I find the term "easy" keeper to be a misnomer with Morgans. There require very little food...that makes them hard to keep healthy.
Fortunately ours would rather be in the barn than out...a couple of hours a day is plenty for them to be sane and rideable.
My mare is IR. Morgan/QH. She has been on full, lush pastures for the summers most of her life. Grazing muzzle. And exercise. Else, dry lots and hay.
My mare has done best weight wise in one of two situations:
1) 24/7 turnout on grass w/ grazing muzzle checked daily, ridden regularly.
2) Turnout on dry lot with hay.
She did not start showing issues related to IR until she was about 15. Coming on 23 now. Doing well if maintained.
Another thing that I think did help though I've got no empirical data was the SmartControl IR pelleted from SmartPak. I am not normally a fan of throwing nutriceuticals at things, but I figured it couldn't hurt at worst and at best, it might help. Due to budgetary constraints, I have not given this to her for the last 6 mod, but I think it did help some.
A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.