Transitioning From Hay to Pasture

Newsdate: Tue, 19 Apr 2011 - 09:00 am
Location: BAYFIELD, Colorado

Dr. Getty’s April Tip: A Serving of Patience to Balance Spring Grazing:“ Now that spring is here, we need to take it slowly when transitioning any of our horses from hay to pasture,” says equine nutritionist Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. “And for those of us with insulin resistant horses,” she adds, “we may also need a dose of patience.”

 The first spring sprouts are actually lower in sugars and starch (non-structural carbohydrates—NSC) because they use all that energy to promote their own rapid growth. But horses crave fresh grass and will eat volumes of it, making their overall NSC consumption really high—dangerously high for horses who are overweight, cushingoid, or who have experienced insulin-related laminitis.

  • When the night temperature is below 40 degrees F, the grass is too high in NSC.
  •  Once it gets above 40 degrees F at night, the lowest NSC level is before the sun rises.
  •  The NSC level is highest in late afternoon, after a sunny day.

There is no exact “best time” to turn out your horses on pasture. Generally speaking, it’s safest before dawn, until approximately 10:00 am, and then again at night, starting at around 11:00 pm. Start slowly, offering hay when horses are not on fresh grass.

Finally, test your pasture! Yes, testing is not only for hay. It will take the guesswork out of knowing which times are best.

Looking for more advice on optimal nutrition for your horse? For more than 20 years, Dr. Juliet Getty has taught and consulted on equine nutrition. Her comprehensive book, Feed Your Horse Like A Horse: Optimizing your horse’s nutrition for a lifetime of vibrant health, is available in hardcover and CD (PDF) through her website or at At horse owners and managers will find a library of helpful articles, an online store, and a calendar of appearances, teleconferences and interviews. Dr. Getty also offers a popular (and free) monthly e-newsletter, “Forage for Thought”; sign up through the website. Contact Dr. Getty directly at (970) 884-7187 or

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying  up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere..