Managing Pasture to Reduce the Risk
Edition: 1st., 2010
Laminitis is a leading cause of death in horses and makes a significant financial and emotional impact on the horse industry. Around the world the success of pasture improvement programs is measured against increased meat, fibre and dairy production. Increasing the readily available carbohydrates in pasture and hay is the primary focus. As the technology available to forage breeders and producers has improved, the resultant increased amounts of sugar, starch and fructan (collectively called non-structural carbohydrates or NSC) has made some pastures inappropriate for horses and ponies prone to obesity, insulin resistance and laminitis. Environmental conditions can trigger three-fold increases in NSC in pasture plants and hay, so it is imperative that the owners of horses prone to laminitis and feed producers catering to such animals, understand how to manage pasture and hay crops to decrease NSC concentration. Such horse owners also need to understand under which conditions pasture or hay NSC content become so dangerous that access for high risk animals should be limited or eliminated.
Some practical methods for minimising pasture NSC are provided in this report, such as timely slashing, proper fertilisation and avoidance of pastures species that have high genetic potential for excess NSC accumulation under stress.
This report provides strategies to prevent laminitis based on principles of plant science: growing grass that is under less stress to reduce NSC concentration; limiting access to pasture for high risk animals by use of a sacrificial area; and preservation and re-introduction of native grass pastures that are inherently lower in NSC.
Some pasture management practices that minimise pasture NSC also happen to be important features of environmentally friendly, sustainable land stewardship. So laminitic horses will benefit first from employment of these strategies and later generations of Australians may benefit as well.