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  • March 28, 2024 4 min read

    Grass Shoots and Digestive Upsets

    As the season changes, and the rain (eventually!) comes, new grass shoots will begin to blanket pastures. Whilst the new season's grass is welcomed by horses and their owners, it can cause digestive upsets in many horses. Understanding how to manage and reduce these digestive upsets in therefore important for maintaining the health and well-being of your horse. In this article, we will explore the nutritional profile of new grass shoots, as well as what you can do to prevent digestive upsets in your horse. 

    The Nutritional Profile of New Grass Shoots

    New grass shoots are appealing to horses for good reason. They are rich in nutrients, high in moisture, and often more palatable than the mature forage or hay that horses consume during other times of the year. These shoots are particularly high in sugars and proteins, providing a burst of energy that can be beneficial for certain horses, particularly those in work or needing to gain weight.

    However, the very factors that make new grass so appealing also contribute to its potential for causing digestive disturbances. The high sugar content can lead to an imbalance in the gut's microbial population, favoring the growth of bacteria that produce lactic acid. This shift can cause a drop in pH within the hindgut, leading to conditions such as acidosis, which is a precursor to more severe issues like laminitis.

    The Risk of Digestive Upsets

    Horses evolved as grazing animals, with a digestive system designed to process a constant supply of fibre. The sudden introduction to rich, lush pasture can overwhelm this system, leading to a variety of digestive upsets. Symptoms of these issues may include colic, diarrhea, and in severe cases, laminitis.

    Laminitis, in particular, is a concern with the ingestion of too much non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs) found in new grass. It involves inflammation of the laminae structures within the hoof, leading to instability of the coffin bone. Preventative management is key, as recovery from laminitis can be a long and challenging process.

    Management Strategies

    The key to preventing digestive upsets as horses transition to grazing on new grass is gradual introduction and moderation. Here are some strategies that may help:

    1. Gradual Introduction: Start by allowing horses to graze on new grass for short periods, gradually increasing the time over several weeks. This can help their digestive systems adjust without overwhelming them.
    1. Monitor Body Condition: Keep a close eye on your horses' body condition and adjust their grazing time accordingly. Overweight horses or those prone to laminitis may need more restricted access to lush pasture.
    1. Supplement with Hay: Providing hay before allowing horses to graze can help slow down their consumption of new grass, reducing the risk of overeating.
    1. Limit Grazing Time: During peak growth periods, it may be necessary to limit grazing time to just a few hours a day, supplementing with hay and other fibre sources as needed.
    1. Pasture Management: Implementing rotational grazing or using a grazing muzzle can also help manage intake of new grass shoots.
    1. Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Regular check-ups can help identify and mitigate any emerging health issues before they become serious.

    Along with these management strategies, there are some supplements that you can feed your horse that aims to stabilise the gut flora, enhance digestion of increased sugar levels and support overall gut health. Below are a list of commonly used supplements and their benefits:

    1. Probiotics: Probiotics are live microorganisms that add beneficial bacteria to the equine gut. These can help maintain a healthy balance of gut flora, which is essential for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. By stabilizing the gut microbiome, probiotics can help prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria that lead to digestive upsets.
    1. Prebiotics: Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that feed the beneficial bacteria in the horse's gut. They help increase populations of good bacteria, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, promoting a healthy digestive system. Prebiotics can be particularly beneficial during dietary changes, such as transitioning to new grass shoots.
    1. Psyllium: Psyllium is a source of soluble fibre that can absorb water in the gut, forming a gel-like substance. This can help stabilize bowel movements and is particularly useful in preventing sand colic in horses grazing in sandy areas. Psyllium can also aid in the smooth transition of the digestive system to new, lush pastures by helping to regulate gut function.
    1. Digestive Enzymes: Supplements containing digestive enzymes can aid in breaking down the increased levels of sugars and starches found in new grass shoots. These enzymes help ensure that sugars are efficiently digested and absorbed before they can ferment in the hindgut, reducing the risk of acidosis and other digestive upsets.
    1. Hindgut Acid Neutralizers: These supplements are designed to neutralize excessive acid in the hindgut, protecting the gut lining and maintaining a healthy pH balance. They can be especially useful when horses are introduced to rich, lush pastures that may increase the risk of hindgut acidosis.
    1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 supplements can help reduce inflammation throughout the body, including the digestive tract. They can support overall health and may help mitigate the inflammatory responses associated with digestive upsets.

    Some of our top-selling gut supplements include:

    • Digestive EQ
    • Yea-saac
    • Bio-mos
    • EAC Inside-out

    It's important to note that while supplements can play a helpful role in managing dietary transitions, they should be used as part of a comprehensive management plan. This includes gradually introducing horses to new pastures, monitoring their grazing time, and ensuring they have access to hay or other fibre sources to balance their diet.

    At Oakford Stockfeeds we have a large range of gut supplements. To view our range, simply visit us in-store or online!

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