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Equine Nutrition | Spring 2015 Out Here Magazine

Moving? Help your transplanted horse adapt to his new forage

horses eating off a hay bale
Out Here

By Beti Spangel

Photography by iStock

The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but when moving your horse to a new part of the country, it might not always be as nutritious.

Variations in climate, native grasses, and harvesting practices result in differing hay quality. How can you make sure your horse adapts to new forage and gets the nutrition he needs?

"You definitely want to take a minimum of a week's supply of hay that he's used to when you move," says Dr. Sarah Ralston, a veterinarian and professor of Rutgers University's Equine Science Center in New Brunswick, N.J.

"The average horse is going to go through half a bale a day, so you're going to be looking at three bales at least from where you're coming from, and then you can slowly transition," Ralston says. "He won't necessarily want the new hay, but at least he'll nibble at some of it and he can adjust."

A mature horse will eat approximately 2-2.5 percent of its body weight a day and at least half of that should be roughage such as hay. For a 1,000-pound horse, that equals at least 10 pounds of roughage each day. Quality hay should have a leafy appearance, good green color, and a sweet smell.

Hay differences vary from region to region.

"The hay grown out in Colorado, for example, tends to be much higher in sugar content than East Coast hay, due to the way they harvest," says Ralston.

"On the East Coast, the farmers cut the hay as early in the morning as they can to get as long a drying period as they can. Out West, they cut late during the day because they don't want it to get too dry," she says. "The issue there is the grasses accumulate sugars during the day, so our East Coast hays are cut during the day when it's the lowest sugar, and out West they're cutting during the day when it's the highest sugar."

Ralston suggests taking the time to research what hays are available in your new location.

"If you're moving to California, you can't get anything but alfalfa. Start feeding your horse a little alfalfa before your move; not a lot, so it's not such a shock to his system when you get there and that's all that's available. The more gradual the transition, the better."

Reach out to county agricultural extension agents and local stables for information on locally available hay, the composition of regional hayfields, and input on how the recent haying season has gone, she advises.

A key component of your horse's roughage intake is pasture.

"Include in your inspection of his new home a check of available pasture," Ralston says. "See if there are any toxic plants. I had a situation where my East Coast mare, who loved dandelions, moved out to Colorado, where they have a toxic plant called gumweed that looks just like a dandelion."

"All the local horses knew not to eat the gumweed, as they're really foul tasting, but my mare developed a taste for them," she says. "So you've got to be aware that they may not have the common wisdom to avoid toxic plants."

Knowing the types of hay available in a new location, making a gradual transition between old and new forage, and being aware of a new pasture's composition will help ensure your horse gets the nutrition he needs as he adapts to his new home.

Beti Spangel, of upstate New York, specializes in writing about horses.


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