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You Wouldn't Feed Your Horse Weeds Would You?
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You Wouldn't Feed Your Horse Weeds Would You?

Yes, I am very serious – your horse should be eating weeds!

I know that sounds crazy, but let’s dive into this comment a little.  Let’s start with what you are probably thinking.  All your horse owning friends, nutrition experts, and other “professionals” say you horse should be eating high quality grass (orchard, brome, etc.) or a grass/alfalfa mix.  My grandpa said the same thing, and my dad did after him!

OK, but why are they saying those things?  Have you really thought about it?  Have you ever watched your horse feed in a location where there is wide variety of grasses and forbes, including weeds?

If you were to watch your horse(s) carefully while grazing for about an hour in a pasture with a high diversity of plants you would see two things:

1.       The plants they will selectively eat first are the youngest most green and succulent that are just emerging from the soil.  They will choose these all day over large green shoots of grass.

2.       Over the course of an hour they will move about and eat a wide variety of different types of plants.  One day this choice might be of one mix of plants and the next day it might be completely a different mix of plants.

So why are they behaving this way?  It has to do with thousands of years of evolution, and their immediate dietary needs.  They know instinctively what nutrients and minerals their bodies are needing at any point in time.  They will select those plants that satisfy those needs.

Nutritional analysis of the plants a horse will select to eat in a pasture will show elevated levels of certain nutrients or minerals (protein, carbon, calcium, magnesium, etc.).  Numerous studies of diverse pasture plants have shown that from one plant species to the next there are these needed nutritional differences.  Some plants, for example, have more ability to extract needed minerals from mineral depleted soils while others cannot extract any of these same minerals.

In a diverse, weedy, pasture they can fulfill those dietary needs by selecting one mix one day and another the next.  You will even notice that there are certain plant types they never touch.  Some of them are going to be grasses that your “experts” say you should be exclusively growing in your fields.

If you study the history of the health of wild horses you will see that they have much fewer health issues than our many domesticated horse breeds.  Why?  For one thing they have the ability to graze diverse fields of grasses and forbes (including weeds). Maybe you would see the same thing with your horse(s)

Diverse pastures with grasses and forbes are by far the most nutritious for your horse(s). Your horse’s eating habits and their long-term health will show you that. 

So what does this mean for you?  Maybe you should think about a little different way you manage your pastures.  Maybe you should use less pesticides (I would recommend none) to be killing weeds. Maybe you should change your irrigation practices (many weeds require much less water).  Or, maybe you should do less tilling to prepare pastures. 

By the way all three of these practices above are much more regenerative for the long-term sustainability of your pastures.  So in summary your “weeds will be more green!”.

If you would like to know more about innovative thoughts in livestock nutrition visit the Sustainable Livestock Nutrition site and see a number of other articles about creative ways to view your horse health and nutrition management.  You can also reach out to me for more information at my Nourish the Planet site. Be thoughtful and open-mined about managing your horse’s health.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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