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Grazing Systems for Weight Loss

horses grazing, different grazing systems, can judges spot overweight horses

We have a big issue with Equine Obesity in this country. It is one of the biggest killers of horses and just seems to becoming more and more of a problem. But changing your horses turnout to one of the below grazing systems could help you keep those extra pounds off.

What is the problem with normal grazing systems?

One of the biggest issues with our current grazing systems is how we manage them. These days, very few yards have ample grazing. This often leads to fields being over grazed. When fields are over grazed, the grass gets eaten down and becomes “stressed.” Stressed grass tends to have a higher sugar content, making it higher in calories.

When we do have the extra grazing to rest our fields, we usually wait until the field has been eaten right down and therefore has more sugar content, which isn’t ideal. We then tend to move them on a well rested field with thick, lush grass. Which the horses will stay on until it becomes stressed. Both stressed and lush grass have their risks. They can both lead to obesity and to colic.

Where we can, we should look to improve how we manage our grazing. This is especially important for horses who are prone to issues such as; obesity, laminitis, mobility issues and colic.

Strip Grazing

Strip grazing is one of the most common systems for managing overweight horses, especially over the summer months or when moving to better grazing. This method involves sectioning off a small area of the field for your horse to eat. Then as they eat this down, you move the small section further down the field, so they slowly graze the whole field bit by bit.

Pros of strip grazing systems

When done well, strip grazing can be a really effective way of keeping weight off. They have limited grass at all times, which can be supplemented with hay in the field if needed. If you move the entire section down the field, rather than just making it bigger each time, you are also constantly rotating and resting the grazing.

Cons of strip grazing

However, it can be time consuming. You realistically need to be moving the fencing every other day, if not every day. The grass also gets eaten down quite short, making it more sugary. Your horse also has a lot less space to move around in, so is going to burn less calories and stiffen up.

Traditional Track System

Track grazing systems work by not only limiting a horses access to lush grass, but by also encouraging them to move more. They usually work by creating a loop around the edge of the field. Not only does this track quickly eat eaten down so the horse has limited grass, they also have to walk further to access things like water, hay and shelter.

Pros of Track Systems

Track systems are great at encrouaging the horse to keep moving. When done correctly, they will have various forage options to choose from around the tracks. This could be grassy areas, hay and hedgerows. You can also include enrichment areas such as sand pits and toys. But the key is they have to walk around to reach all these different things when they want them.

The middle of the field can then be saved for winter and/or be cut for hay. So it doesn’t go to waste. You can also have tracks spanning over several fields.

Cons of track Grazing Systems

The tracks can become very muddy, especially in the winter, if you haven’t surfaced them. Because the tracks tend to be fairly narrow, you also have to think carefully about turnout groups as horses need enough space to move around each other. You will also likely need to supplement grazing with hay spread out across the track to make it worth while.

Finally, not all horses like a track system. Some won’t move around the track and will stay fairly still, making it all a bit pointless.

Equicentral

The Equicentral Grazing System works by the horses needing to return to the central area to get key resources such as water, hay and shelter, encouraging more movement. The grazing around the central area is usually separated into smaller areas and rotated regularly, before they become over grazed.

Pros of the Equicentral grazing system

This system encourages movement from the grazing areas back to the sheltered area regularly, so can be great for horses who need to keep moving. The way the grazing areas can be rotated easily and regularly means that grass shouldn’t get stressed but also gets plenty of rest.

Cons of Equicentral

This system can be quite a lot of work to set up and if you don’t own your own land, your yard owner might not like you putting up all the fencing, especially if you want something more perminant. The central area the horses are encouraged to return to can also become muddy if it hasn’t been surfaced. Meaning this might not work for the winter.

equicentral grazing system

Track & Equicentral combine

One idea I really like is combing the track and Equicentral grazing systems. This can be a really good option for horses who need to be kept moving but might not need really restricted grazing. Rather than keeping the middle of the track system for hay or winter, you split it up into smaller grazing areas and rotate which ones are open like in the Equicentral system.

combined grazing system

Conclusion

Our current grazing systems can allow horses to have too many calories while out grazing, leading to obesity. But common methods of restricting their intake, such as; grazing muzzles, strip grazing and using starvation paddocks may not be as effective as we think. Not only can these horses end up eating stressed, sugary grass. But they might also move around less, burning less calories. Other grazing systems can be more effective at reducing calories whilst also keeping the horse a bit more active. But they don’t suit all horses and might not work or be allowed at some yards.

Last Updated on 02/04/2022

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