Hot and Dry Temps Got Your Pasture Down?
Hot and dry temps got your pasture down?
The record heat and lack of rain has turned many pastures brown and weedy as grasses go dormant and weeds continue to grow. This can spell trouble for your horses and your pasture. Understanding how extreme temperatures affect your pasture and using a few common sense management tools can help keep your horse safe and your pasture alive.
How grasses and weeds react to stress:
As a defense mechanism to stress, grasses and weeds tend to accumulate more sugar in their leaves. In drought conditions what little grass is left in your pasture may likely contain higher than normal levels of fructans. This increases the risk of laminitis in sensitive horses.
Most common weeds are more drought-resistant than grass, so they remain in the pasture when the grass is gone. The higher sugar levels make these weeds more palatable to bored and hungry horses looking for something to chew on. Stressed weeds can also contain higher than normal levels of toxins, making them more dangerous when consumed.
Grass and weeds that are rebounding after a drought can be dangerous for the same reasons, which is why many veterinarians report an increase in colic and laminitis cases when rain follows a period of drought.
A few simple management tips:
Supplement your pasture with hay.
The foundation of any good equine diet is good quality fiber, so when pastures dry up, hay is a must. Put out a flake or two and see how much your horses eat. If they devourer it, then that is a good sign the pasture is no longer meeting their needs. If they simple nibble on it, then you are still in good shape. Offering hay will also make it less likely that toxic weeds will tempt your horses. Continue to monitor your horse’s reactions to supplemental hay and increase the amount offered if dry conditions persist.
Don’t overgraze your pasture during a drought.
The key to keeping your pasture alive is to support a good root system. Plants feed their roots through photosynthesis that occurs in the plants’ leaves. Plants that are cropped too close to the ground can no longer produce enough nutrients to support the root system and the entire plant dies. If necessary to prevent overgrazing, designate an area like a dry lot or ring and use it for turnout until after the drought passes.
Give your pasture a chance to recover after the drought is over.
Even though your pasture greens up and begins to grow after it rains, the root systems take some time to recuperate. Also, as mentioned above, post-drought grass contains higher than normal amounts of sugar in the leaves that may lead to colic or laminitis if horses eat too much. Limit grazing until the pasture has a chance to recover.
Fertilize with care.
Plants will rebound more quickly after a drought if the soil contains the proper nutrients; however, fertilizing during dry periods can be tricky. Applying fertilizer at the incorrect time or using the wrong kind of fertilizer may cause existing plants to absorb dangerous levels of nitrates. Check with your local County Extension office about when to fertilize and what types of fertilizer to use.
Continue mowing to keep the weeds under control.
Many weeds will happily grow and go to seed during drought conditions. This leads to more weeds and more competition for your pasture grasses when the rain comes and everything begins growing again. Routine mowing will keep weeds under control and stop them from going to seed.
As always, be sure that your horses have access to plenty of fresh water during this hot, dry spell. When the pasture is dry, your horses aren’t taking in as much water from their feed and will drink more. Monitor farm ponds and put out supplemental water tanks when necessary. Make salt blocks available wherever horses are turned out. Use electrolytes daily to replace the minerals and fluids lost in sweat.