Why test your pasture or hay?
The best way to find out what your horse needs is to find out what nutrients he is getting already from the main source of fibre, also known as roughage. Pasture or chaff/hay is the foundation of the diet. The horse's digestive system evolved over a very long time to a design that is geared to extract available calories from high fibre foods by hindgut fermentation. The base of the diet for EVERY class of horse should be pasture or chaff/hay.
Grass or hay (preferably grass unless the horse is insulin resistant) is the best food for horses as this is what their digestive systems evolved to eat. Grass contains so many nutrients that horses needand is very high in fibre. This includes protein, carbohydrates, fat, minerals and vitamins. You may be surprised to hear that there is fat in grass. In fact, if your horse did not have access to grass and was mostly on hay instead then the horse would need supplementing with the fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6. These cannot be manufactured by the horse, they have to come from the diet.
Many pastures contain grasses, especially species like Kikuyu that are high in protein and energy. Some people think you need to supplement protein for horses, but the pasture may be supplying 2-3 times their protein requirements or even higher.
To be able to know for sure what amounts of each nutrient/mineral your horse is getting it is best to have a sample of your pasture tested in a laboratory. If only a small amount of hay is in the diet then Balanced Equine Nutrition can use average figures for your preferred type of hay but the most accurate way is to test. Of course, most of us only buy small amounts of hay from different sources so testing in this situation is not realistic.
Testing is not costly, especially if viewed as a way to find out what is actually in your pasture and that means what is going into your horses. More information about how to collect a pasture sample is in the Pasture testing article. An explanation of what a test provides and what it means is on 'Understanding test results'.
I have chosen a laboratory that provides a most comprehensive test for nutrients and will also measure the energy in terms of a horse (rather than cattle which have a rumen) and is the cheapest. A pasture test costs about $40, a hay test can cost as little as $30. Email or call me if you have any questions.
What about soil testing?
Terrific idea and well worth the expense and time to rehabilitate your soils, especially if your pH is too acidic or alkaline. If the soils are too acidic the plants will not be able to take up many of the nutrients that are in the soil. Treating soils is a long term project, treatments can take a long time before you will notice any benefits. Liming, for example, can take as long as a couple of years before the soil pH increases.
Balanced Equine Nutrition is interested in knowing the amounts of nutrients your horses eat. Soil tests will not tell you this. Soil tests will only tell you what is in the soil, not in your pasture. Plants differ from uptake of minerals based on species, growth stage, soil pH, moisture, oxygen and nitrogen levels. Even if your soil test results say your soils are excellent, this does not mean that the grass species will be providing a balanced diet. Of course, these soils will be better than highly acidic or alkaline soils.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q. My pasture is diverse with different species of grass. It isn't one grass that never changes.
Q. If I test my pasture now won't it change by summer and then in winter? Wouldn't you have to keep testing many times a year?
Q. I use my horse for eventing and I was told to use a high protein feed. Is that the right thing to do?
Carol Layton B.Sc, M.Ed