Pasture Management Tips to Minimize Carbohydrate Content

Carbohydrate research done on forages, though not specific on carbohydrate type, has provided information on pasture management that owners can use to manage their horses' intake of carbohydrates. This is particularly of interest to owners with laminitic and/or Cushingoid horses. Kathryn Watts of Rocky Mountain Research and Consulting, a leading equine forage researcher, offers the following recommendations for managing pastures to keep non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) lower in pasture grass.

  • Use enough water and fertilizer to keep non-structural carbs from accumulating.
  • The time of year hay is harvested has nothing to do with NSC content. Environmental conditions and management preceding cutting are more important. "Here's the concept: Photosynthesis is like the factory that makes raw materials, which happens as long as the sun is shining," she describes. "In a plant, respiration is like the manufacturing portion of the plant that turns out finished goods. Even if the factory shuts down because an essential ingredient is missing (such as water), the raw materials are still coming in if the sun is shining. So sugars (raw materials) pile up in inventory. If you starve, neglect, or chill the grass so it can't grow, the sugars pile up."
  • Mow pastures once seed heads pop up above the mower line. Additional mowing may be necessary to remove secondary heads.
  • Avoid grazing grass in the heading stage, mow and graze regrowth.
  • Avoid grazing stubble, as the lower you go in the stem, the higher the carbs.
  • If possible, rotate pastures. This helps avoid horses grazing pasture down to the high-sugar stem bases.

For more information and field trial results, see

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