FROSTY FEAST I can re­call read­ing some­where that it’s bad for horses to eat frosty grass – but I can’t re­call why and can’t find the ar­ti­cle! It was an English ar­ti­cle, and it rec­om­mended wait­ing un­til the frost has melted be­fore turn­ing your horses out i

NZ Horse & Pony - - Trouble Shooting -

Vet Dave replies:

The con­cerns with horses eat­ing frosty grass are that there is an in­creased risk of lamini­tis and an in­creased risk for med­i­cal colic.

It’s be­lieved there is an in­creased con­cen­tra­tion of sug­ars in the grass fol­low­ing a frost, thus horses who have equine meta­bolic syn­drome and are in­sulin-re­sis­tant are at risk of a higher than nor­mal sugar in­take by eat­ing frosty grass, and thus lamini­tis.

In a prac­ti­cal sense this would re­quire the grass which is frosty be­ing spring­type grass, and hav­ing an al­ready rea­son­able level of sugar present. From the per­spec­tive of the or­di­nary horse, the risk of lamini­tis is nil from eat­ing frosty grass.

For our fat­ter four-legged friends who suf­fer from lamini­tis, there is the pos­si­bil­ity of eat­ing frosty grass caus­ing a re­peated bout. How­ever, it would be hoped that the own­ers of said curvy ponies would al­ready be on guard for the in­ges­tion of too much grass.

With re­gards to frosty grass caus­ing colic, there are two sug­gested meth­ods. The first is up­set­ting of the di­ges­tive sys­tem through a change in diet, the sec­ond is tem­per­a­ture shock from cold grass hit­ting the stom­ach. The more likely method in my opin­ion would be the for­mer, es­pe­cially for a horse who had been sta­bled and then turned out. How­ever, the risk here is also very min­i­mal and un­likely to be of real con­cern.

My opin­ion is that there is min­i­mal risk for horses graz­ing on frosty pas­ture and I would not al­ter my man­age­ment strat­egy

Nu­tri­tion­ist Lucy replies:

Hi Amy, an­i­mals will typ­i­cally not eat frozen grass – un­less they are very hun­gry. In win­ter, eat­ing any­thing cold can cause prob­lems as it can re­duce core body tem­per­a­ture – hence why moun­taineers are al­ways told never eat snow no mat­ter how des­per­ate they may be.

Also, when the weather is frosty, the grass will con­tinue to pho­to­syn­the­sise, pro­duc­ing sug­ars, but when tem­per­a­tures are low, the grass will not grow and lay down fi­bre, as it will in other sea­sons. Hence frosted grass can be very high in sugar, which is a prob­lem for laminitic and sugar-sen­si­tive horses.

In gen­eral, grass will be higher in sugar on bright sunny days – so it’s a good idea to try to di­lute out any neg­a­tive ef­fects by pro­vid­ing them with a high fi­bre for­age source – such as hay or baleage from fi­brous pas­tures.

the sug­ges­tion in hu­man medicine that high lev­els of omega 3s, such as those found in fish oils, may have some health ben­e­fits. How well this re­search crosses over from hu­man bi­ol­ogy to equine and to what ex­tent horses are af­fected by dif­fer­ing omega 3 and 6 ra­tios is not well known.

For me, the jury is still out as to whether the in­creased cost of feed­ing flax seed oil jus­ti­fies the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits and I would not fault you for feed­ing the cheaper veg­etable oil – es­pe­cially if that freed up some money that could be spent else­where of more ben­e­fit to a se­nior horse such as reg­u­lar den­tistry and far­ri­ery. Hi Sue, it de­pends on what you’re try­ing to achieve. Re­search is still un­de­cided about the bal­ance of omega oils in horse di­ets, although typ­i­cally they need more omega 3s than any­thing else, as horses can­not man­u­fac­ture these in their cells.

How­ever, take heart as there is a good mid­dle ground for you! Canola oil is high in omega 3s but is still avail­able via su­per­mar­ket shelves. In­deed, re­search has shown that canola oil is good for joints and for re­duc­ing in­flam­ma­tion in horses, as well as be­ing a source of ‘cool’ energy and omega 3s.

All the omega oils of vary­ing lengths are needed in an­i­mals for var­i­ous func­tions, but the 3s are of­ten the most lack­ing in the diet, es­pe­cially where a horse is fed ce­re­al­based feed. Typ­i­cally, rec­om­men­da­tions for mam­mals vary from 3:1 and 5:1 for omega 3 to 6 ra­tios, which gives you an in­di­ca­tion of bal­ance re­quired. How­ever, your pri­mary goal is to feed ex­tra cool energy to your horses, so us­ing canola oil should help achieve this with­out in­creas­ing the omega 6 lev­els and still get­ting the energy into them.

The oil for hu­man con­sump­tion should be sta­bilised with vi­ta­min E to pre­vent ran­cid­ity. As al­ways, when in­tro­duc­ing oil into the feed, do so slowly to en­sure the gut can adapt ac­cord­ingly. Up to 15% of the to­tal di­etary in­take of feed as oil has been pro­posed as the max­i­mum safe level of de­liv­ery of oil for horse feeds. Other re­search sug­gests lim­it­ing oil to 80-100 ml/ day for a 500kg horse in mod­er­ate work.

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