It looks like spring is finally here in the North Peace. The unmistakable green of new leaves and grass can be seen in every direction. All the livestock animals eagerly sample every green blade of grass they can reach.
After a long winter eating stored dry forage, pasture looks like a great option for both the grazing animals and their owners who have been setting out feed for them all winter. There are unique considerations for the horses that are going out to pasture, some of which are harmful and potentially life-threatening.
Firstly, the horse’s gut takes some time to adjust to the change. A sudden turn out to good pasture can result in colic. Many times this is mild and passes with minimal trouble, however some horses will need an exam and some help with the pain. Most likely is ‘gas colic’, but any upset of the normal bowel function can also lead to more serious colic and potential for a need to consider surgery. Start slowly and provide some hay even as the horses begin to graze. Eventually they will be able to enjoy pasture alone.
The lush new grass is rich in nutrients and the fine blades digest very well making the plant sugars readily available to the grazing horse. Many Peace Country horses have had or will have laminitis as a result of rich feed and the overweight condition that goes along with it. Some people even refer to this condition as “grass founder.” This condition is the painful inflammation of the sensitive lamina where the hoof wall is attached to the live tissues of the deeper part of the hoof. Every possible degree of this condition can occur, including the loss of support for the coffin bone and crippling and unrelenting pain that requires euthanasia. Laminitis also tends to happen more easily with each episode. Try to limit the rich diet and the weight gain. Pick up a girth tape to help monitor things. Putting the horse back to work also helps burn it off.
Another Peace Country concern is the invasion of your pastures by the widespread and common clover known as alsike. This clover plant invades forage stands best when there are moist conditions so watch out for these problems this year as our fields are getting a very wet start. Check for clover and consider renovating pastures or applying herbicide appropriately to eliminate alsike. Horses are more sensitive to the toxic effects of the alsike and sure signs are sunburn of the white areas of skin where the sun hits best, like the face and top part of the body. The alsike also causes liver damage and can accumulate over time, resulting in scarring and limited liver function. Some horses will not survive severe liver effects.
If you consider these few factors early in the season, getting your equine friend back on the pasture can be managed better and safely done. Many resources are available to help you, and if health concerns do arise, give your veterinarian a call.
Dr. Perry Spitzer is an owner and director of North Peace Veterinary Clinic Ltd. with his life and veterinary partner, Dr. Corinne Spitzer.