Springtime Cautions

Be prepared for spring with a GutzBusta Hay Net!

Spring is well and truly on the way. Some of you may be experiencing some good frosts, but many of those days have warmed up to be beautiful Spring days.

Spring is a time of new and more vibrant growth, marking the start of greener pastures and warmer weather. However, it can be a time of massive stress for horse owners. Elements contributing to this stress can include, but are not limited to:

Frosty or very cold mornings of less than 41 degrees.
Warm days to start the Spring growth period.
Not much rain.
What does all of that add up to?? STRESSED PLANTS with MAXIMUM sugar levels!!

For the many reasons that I will go on to explain, this could spell a very bad spring for already overweight horses and ponies, or those that are already metabolically at risk of laminitis.

Remember, laminitis is the second biggest contributor to the death of our beautiful equines, so all horse owners need to take it seriously.

Other things to take into consideration are to gradually change your horse's feed which is vital to keep your horse or pony safe and well, particularly if you have a laminitic, Insulin Resistant (IR) or Cushing’s horse or pony. No doubt your horse will be chomping at the bit to get into the lush green spring grass, but the high sugar and starch content can lead to laminitis and/or diarrhoea if grazing is not strictly controlled and managed during the transition from Winter into the Spring flush of feed.

At GutzBusta, we’re committed to helping you keep your horse safe, so we’ve put together some news, tips, and advice to help you prepare for Spring.

When is your pasture safest?

Higher easily digestible carbohydrate content in your pasture is potentially dangerous to all horses while they’re transitioning from a low-grass/hay-based diet to the flush of feed in Spring. But animals that are IR, have Cushing’s disease or are overweight are even more susceptible to laminitis, so you need to work out when or even if your pasture is safe.

The general rules of assessing whether your pasture is ‘safe’ or not are determined by both temperature and sunlight on the plant:

  • When the night temperatures are below 41°F, the grass is too high in sugar and starch due to the stress on the grass.
  • Once it gets above 41°F at night, the lowest plant sugar and starch level is before sunrise
  • Anything that stresses a plant will raise the sugar levels eg: drought or frost or importantly - overgrazing!
  • Sunny days: The NSC levels are highest in the afternoon/evening
  • Overcast or cloudy days: Grass produces less sugar and starch due to less photosynthesis taking place, so pasture is a little safer.
  • Unfortunately, there are some horses and ponies that are never in a position to be put out to pasture for longer than an hour a day, if at all at certain times of the year.

It is important to seek veterinary/trimmer/farrier/equine nutritionist help when dealing with chronic and acute laminitis cases. Making an informed decision and getting the CORRECT advice can literally mean the difference of life or death to your horse or pony, or a lifetime of suffering.

Sunny afternoons are NEVER safe to allow grazing for these types of horses and ponies.

Carbohydrates levels = ESC + Starch < 10%

This is particularly important when you are getting hay tested for laminitic-prone horses and ponies. It is not the NSC that is what you need to know, but the ESC + Starch level. This should be under 10% to be considered safe for at-risk equines. These figures are equally important for pasture, however, pasture carbohydrate levels change all of the time due to many factors already discussed above.

Dr Eleanore Kellon's page - Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance has some fantastic information on managing, emergency protocol, and general education on this topic. All horses are capable of getting laminitis under the wrong conditions.

Factors to consider!

Many other factors can affect the ESC and Starch content of your grass and hay, including soil quality, nutrient levels, drought, flooding, and type of pasture (native V’s improved).

If you are uncertain and need some help working out which slow feeder will suit your needs best in this transition period or all year around, be sure to reach out to us here at GutzBusta. We’ll help put your mind at ease and help you decide which slow feed hay net will work for your horses

It is crucial to bear in mind that during sunny days, the ESC and starch levels will be significantly elevated, especially in the afternoon and evenings. Subsequently, the plant utilizes these sugars throughout the night, resulting in lower sugar levels in the morning. The following day, the plant's sugar levels are replenished once again by the sun.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that mornings with temperatures below 5 degrees can cause stress to the plant. Therefore, avoiding grazing for at-risk horses is advisable due to the higher sugar levels during such conditions.

Why is starvation NOT the answer?

Stress causes the release of Cortisol and starvation is a form of stress for an animal that should be eating for 18 to 20 hours a day. Therefore it makes NO sense to starve a laminitic horse as this cortisol release interferes with the hoof wall/coffin bone connection and will delay the improvement of a stronger hoof wall connection once correct management begins.

What is Low Grade / Subclinical Laminitis?

Many of us are familiar with the typical laminitis stance where the horse is leaning backward taking weight off its toes. However, with low-grade or sub-clinical laminitis, it is much more insidious and can creep up on you without realising it.

Little bit by little bit the hoof wall/coffin bone connection becomes further and further separated. If not checked, your horse can fall further down the cascade of laminitis. This is a condition not to be taken lightly as it is the second biggest killer of horses. Many people get away with sub-optimal management for a long time, even years... until the horse or pony crashes.

Watching your beloved Equine battle through this condition is heartbreaking.

Be prepared as we head into Spring and have your hay net stock levels up so if you have to lock up your equines to get them off the grass, you have an excellent management tool ready!

Signs of Sub-Clinical Laminitis?

There are MANY signs of subclinical laminitis.

  • Uncomfortable on hard ground, when previously ok.
  • Shortening stride on hard ground.
  • Horizontal Ridges (rings) on the exterior of the hoof wall.
  • Reluctance to pick up feet for cleaning.
  • Sore after a trim when usually ok.
  • Digital Pulse.
  • Shifting weight.
  • Stretched or blood in the lamina line.
  • Flattened sole.
  • One of the biggest tell-tale signs is the rings in the hoof wall. Too often this is ignored, but it is hugely significant.

Management is the key to success. Although working progress with the photos above, the above hoof photos are 6 months between them showing the difference regular trimming and management can make.

EVERY horse is capable of becoming Laminitic

There are just those that are more prone than others. Some horses may spend a lot of their life in a sub-clinical state but due to seasonal variations, they may 'cope' ok. That is until too many cards become stacked against them and they succumb to this debilitating condition.

Laminitis isn't just a 'Pony' thing! All horses and ponies are susceptible under the wrong/right conditions.

Management Plans:

  • Do you have somewhere that you can safely lock up your horse or pony during higher-risk times or if they are already getting sore or showing signs of sub-clinical Laminitis?

  • Have you checked your GutzBusta Hay Net supply to make sure you have them on hand if you do need to start locking your horse and pony up?

  • Are you getting your equine's hooves regularly attended to? In Spring and Summer, they can tend to grow faster. 6 weeks is too long in most cases. This applies to both shod and unshod hooves.

  • Diet - Have you found 'safe' hay that is less than 10% in ESC and starch?

  • Are you watching weather, growth rates and times of day and taking these into consideration for managing your horse or pony? See our last email for more information on this topic and post above.

  • Exercise - even 20 minutes of hand walking 3 to 4 times a week can be helpful.

  • Movement - Horses are meant to move. Having a buddy will increase this movement and keep them content.

  • Reduce stress.

What is the difference between laminitis and founder?

These 2 terms are often used interchangeably, however, the following gives a little more insight into their definitions.

Laminitis: Weakening of the laminae hoof wall connection - the tissue that connects the coffin bone to the hoof wall inside the foot. Horses and ponies, like us humans are experiencing more and more metabolic issues often from too much feed/inappropriate feed and not enough exercise. The first sign of PPID/Cushing's or IR can often be laminitis. Laminitis can be sub-clinical or low-grade and in our previous email, we discussed these signs. Left unchecked, or unresolved, laminitis can progress to what some call 'founder'. This commonly occurs in cresty-necked, or obese horses and is a great reason why horses should exit winter more on the lean side. There are many varying degrees of laminitis - mild or low grade to severe (founder).

Founder: Often used synonymously with laminitis, but often indicates disease progression if this term is used. Most people use the term founder to show a horse whose coffin bone has come separated from its hoof wall attachment and is displaced.

Not just limited to grass, Carbohydrate/Grain overload can also be a major cause of laminitis. Nutritionally induced laminitis through carbohydrate overload (grain, fruit, snacks, molasses) is another common cause. An excess of starch and sugars overflowing into the hindgut upsets the microflora (bacteria), which in turn, produces lactic acid, increasing the acidity of the hindgut. A toxic environment is created and toxins are released into the bloodstream via leaky hindgut epithelium.

Although laminitis is commonly caused by feed, grass, or grain overload, it is also important to realize that not EVERY case of laminitis is feed or metabolically related. There are other causes such as:

  • Snakebite.
  • Retained fetal membranes (placenta) after the birth of a foal.
  • Toxaemia - Many different causes, but horses that have high levels of toxins in the bloodstream are at high risk of laminitis. Bacterial, viral, plant, chemical and fungal toxins have all been implicated in causing laminitis. Keep an eye on horses that are suffering from fever, diarrhoea, colic (particularly after surgery), pneumonia, and pleurisy. Treatment of the initiating cause must be accomplished before improvement in laminitis can be expected.
  • Medications and Steroids - Although controversial, prolonged use or high doses of corticosteroids may contribute to the development of laminitis in some horses. Routine vaccinations have also been known to cause laminitis for some horses, therefore careful consideration needs to be given of the time of year they are given for metabolic-type horses and ponies.
  • Trauma - If a horse is injured and therefore is excessively weight-bearing on one leg. Fast or prolonged work on hard surfaces is another cause that has been associated with mechanical laminitis.

WSC, NSC, and ESC - what are these?

What are WSC, NSC, and ESC? These are terms for various carbohydrate fractions in forage or feeds.

  • Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC) are carbohydrates solubilized and extracted in water. Includes monosaccharides, disaccharides and some polysaccharides — mainly fructan.
  • Fructan is a major storage carbohydrate in grasses.
  • Non-Structural Carbohydrate (NSC) is calculated by adding Water Soluble Carbohydrate (WSC) and Starch.
  • Ethanol Soluble Carbohydrates (ESC) are simple sugars. Only ESC and Starch will cause glucose spikes and insulin spikes.
  • It is the ESC and Starch levels added together that give the percentage of carbohydrates in the hay. For laminitic, IR/Cushings, or any obese or metabolically challenged horse or pony, this should be under 10%, with the starch portion being 4% or lower.

How much should a horse be fed?

As a feeding guide, a horse should receive approximately 1.5 – 2.5% of its body weight in forage. Therefore on average, a 1100lb horse in maintenance up to moderate work should be getting 16.5-27.5lb of forage (hay/grass from grazing) per day.

If your horse is overweight, then aiming for 1.5% is ideal and if underweight then heading for 2.5% would be ideal. If your horse needs to lose weight, feeding 1.5% of its current body weight, or 2.0% of it's ideal bodyweight (whichever is more) is recommended.

Weighing your hay is an effective method to precisely determine the quantity you are providing to your horse or pony. Hay nets facilitate this process by allowing you to easily fill the net with hay and then weigh it.

Horses should never be fed per biscuit, only by weight. For example; a biscuit of lucerne V's a biscuit of pasture hay can be very different and the horse might be getting too much or too little.

This is where a slow feeder comes in handy as it can be loaded up with hay and the horse is able to get the amount of forage it requires.

The right hay is SO important!

No matter if there is a short period of fasting or if you have ad-lib 24/7 grazing, the MOST important factor is the sugar and starch content of the hay. If your horse has 24/7 access to high sugar hay then you will never get on top of the laminitis and your horse will head on a downhill run to more severe laminitis and eventually 'founder'.

I have personally used Equi-Analytical/Dairy One in the USA, to get my hay tested. The factors that I am interested in the most are the DE, protein, ESC, Starch, and ADF.

Ryegrass and Clover are among the biggest Equine no no's of hay.

Mowing your Pasture!

I often hear advice given to people who mow their pastures to reduce the amount of feed and make it 'safer' for their horses and ponies to graze.

This unfortunately has quite the opposite effect on pasture sugar levels. Anything that stresses a plant, raises the sugar levels. Moving stresses the plants, so although there may be less volume, what is now available is now fully loaded with sugar.

Taller, mature pastures, after the seed head has matured are safer than short, stressed pastures.

Although there may be some merit to mowing to keep the seed head from forming in the pasture species as the sugar content is greatest while the seed head is forming and maturing, this needs to be individually evaluated for your particular paddock and plant species. It is said that the pastures remain higher in sugar levels for 2 to 4 weeks after mowing, so mowing may just not work as by the time the pasture is 'safer' to graze after the stress of moving, it will by then have seed heads up and growing again. This is such an individual situation and all species of grass have their own way of dealing with being mowed, rate of seed head production etc. The more species you have, the more you have to take into consideration.

Over Grazing

As I keep mentioning, anything that stresses a plant raises its sugar content levels. Overgrazing will certainly do that.

This is very important to realize for at-risk horses and ponies as they are often locked up in a small yard or paddock that seemingly has little to graze on. However, that short stressed grass that they are picking at that is growing at ground level can be VERY high in sugar and starch and although well-meaning, may keep these horses in a laminitic state and not aid their return to soundness.

Dirt is the best place for these horses and ponies in a laminitic state, with low sugar hay that has an ESC and Starch content of less than 10%.

New shoots of grass are also higher in sugar and starch which will be seen in an overgrazing situation.

Another important consideration is that most of the sugar in grasses tends to be in the bottom 3 to 4 inches of the plants. While it might be tempting to think that a very short, overgrazed pasture is safe because there’s “nothing much there,” such pastures present several risks—grasses are very stressed and only the lower inches of the plant are available, meaning these pastures can be very high in sugar. Add a frost to this and this short-stressed grass can be diabolically high in sugar.

Frosts and High Temperatures

One of the general rules of assessing whether your pasture is ‘safe’ or not is determined by both temperature and sunlight on the plant:

  • When the night temperatures are below 41°F, the grass is too high in sugar and starch due to the stress on the grass.
  • Once it gets above 41°F at night, the lowest plant sugar and starch level is before sunrise
  • However, once temperatures are heading over 90-104°F (depending if the plant is a C3 or C4 species), the plant is also stressed and it's sugar levels are raised.
  • At this temperature and below, the plants’ growth rate is slow, which means stored sugars aren’t used up. As such, they’ll still be high in the early morning. In this situation, potentially at-risk horses should not have pasture access.

Balanced Soils

It makes sense that if the soils are not balanced and are nutritionally depleted, then you can only expect the plants growing on these soils will also be the same. This of course adds more stress to the plant and is another factor to take into consideration.

You can easily do a soil test yourself. Over-fertilisation is also not a good thing and can lead to nutrients being 'locked up' and not available for the plants.

Regenerative farming techniques can lead to healthier soils without high fertilizer input costs.

What is regenerative farming?

Regenerative farming is a way of working with nature’s own perfect cycles and processes, cultivating biodiversity and letting the circle of life flow as it should.

This differs from large-scale, conventional farming, which focuses on efficiencies at the cost of a life well-lived for the animal, and respect for the ecosystem surrounding the farm. This may involve planting lots of trees, and visiting and moving animals every day.

Regenerative farming combines ancient knowledge, constant observation, and the mimicking of nature’s own processes to raise animals in a way that actually improves the land, the soil, and the overall ecosystem.

Grass is still the best!

Nothing can ever replicate grass in terms of its nutritive value to the horse. There are vitamins and minerals that can't be replicated by any supplement or bag mix.

Horses have evolved to graze 16-20 hours a day eating high-fibre diets. A diet high in fibre is super important to aid in horses having a healthy and correctly functioning digestive tract.

It is little wonder that horses fed high grain/low fibre diets are those horses with a higher incidence of colic, stomach ulcers and other forms of digestive upset such as diarrhoea. Fibre is paramount for happy, healthy horses and ponies (and all grass-eating livestock).

However, some horses just can't have grass at particular times of the year, or sometimes...ever, and that's it!

If grass isn't safe for a particular horse or pony, then finding a safe and good hay source is critically important for your horse or pony. Remember, low-sugar, but high-quality hay is important to help supply the nutritional needs of your horse or pony, particularly if they are dealing with laminitis.

Seek Assistance

None of the information contained in our emails is intended to be diagnostic or advice. EVERY animal, soil type and nutrient levels, management strategies, nutritional requirements, work levels (retried V's showjumper), and metabolic state are all DIFFERENT. Please consult your local Veterinarian, Equine Nutritionist, or other professional to ask for advice for your specific animals, property, and their individual requirements relevant to your locality.