EQUUS - - Special Report -

In ad­di­tion to the com­po­si­tion of grass grown on “im­proved” (fer­til­ized) soils, the grass plant it­self has been trans­formed through selec­tive breed­ing and ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion. The re­sult is a grass with higher sugar con­tent. Sugar in­creases palata­bil­ity for in­creased con­sump­tion for rapid weight gain in cat­tle. Most USDA grass re­search is fo­cused on live­stock---cat­tle, sheep, hogs and goats. But lit­tle horse-re­lated re­search is done on grass. There­fore, the hay we feed our horses has not been de­signed for them.

Much at­ten­tion has re­cently been given to the non­struc­tural car­bo­hy­drate (NSC) (starch and sugar) con­tent of hay. Higher lev­els of NSC are as­so­ci­ated with in­creased lev­els of in­sulin and the de­vel­op­ment of lamini­tis. Na­tive grasses are lower in NSC and would seem a bet­ter choice for horse own­ers be­cause they are con­sid­ered safer for horses to eat. But na­tive grass is dif­fi­cult to grow be­cause it can­not com­pete with the newer grasses like fes­cue. In many in­stances, at­tempts by horse own­ers to grow a na­tive pas­ture have been met with frus­tra­tion and fail­ure.

Are soil changes re­spon­si­ble for the in­creased in­ci­dence seen on “im­proved” pas­ture? An­i­mals de­rive nour­ish­ment from the soil, and the soil af­fects the com­po­si­tion of all the food grown on it.

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