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Thursday, June 7, 2012

How do I transition my horse from baled hay to pasture?

Q: I have a question about our 24 year old Welsh Cob mare. We have kept her at a stable for the past 18 years. Now that we have our own farm, we are considering bringing her back to our farm to live with our other 3 equines. What concerns me is that our mare has lived the last 18 years in a paddock with very little grass and has been fed mostly baled hay. Our farm has lush pasture. I realize all horses need to be slowly acclimated to pasture in the spring or when they are introduced to a new pasture. She also had an episode of "gas" colic for the first and only time last summer. Other than the colic episode, she has never been sick or needed special treatment. What do you think?

A. You are correct, introducing her (and the other equines) slowly to the pasture is recommended (15 minutes the first day, increasing by 15 minutes each day until you reach 4-5 hours). Colic can occur for many reasons. Gas colic is often associated with feed changes or stress, so any steps you can take to minimize those two issues will be helpful if you decide to bring your mare to your farm. You might also want to consider deworming her before she goes out on the pasture to keep parasite burdens low.

Companionship will be the other key issue for her. If she is used to being with a group of herd mates, going into a group with strangers will be hard on her and consequently, her digestive tract. If she does not bond quickly with her new herd mates, keep you eyes open for a drop in appetite, depression, or manure changes that might signal an impending colic.

If she tends to be an easy keeper, you might also want to consider a grazing muzzle (or restricting grazing) to keep her from overeating in her new pasture.

Given her age, dental attention is wise, so speak to your veterinarian if she is due for her annual examination. Your veterinarian may have some other suggestions.

Finally, before turning horses out into a new pasture (regardless of the time of year), it is a good idea to check for poisonous plants and fence safety.

By Krishona Martinson, PhD, and Julia Wilson, DVM, University of Minnesota

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