Pasture, for the Insulin Resistant Horse?

By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

 

When is pasture safer for the insulin resistant (IR) horse – late afternoon or early morning? Google this question, ask your vet, or talk to a friend and you will get both answers!  How frustrating! It’s time we cleared this up.

Grass is a living organism and requires NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) for energy in order to grow. NSC is a measure of sugars, starch, and fructans and is produced through the process of photosynthesis when the plant is exposed to sunlight.

In general, the following are true: 

  • Grasses accumulate NSC as the day progresses, making them highly concentrated in NSC by the late afternoon.
  • Once the sun sets, grasses will metabolize NSC for energy, making them lowest in concentration in the early morning hours.

This pattern can be disrupted if the night temperatures remain below 40 degrees F (4 degrees C). When exposed to cold, grasses will hold on to NSC and not relinquish it during the night, making morning grazing less safe for the IR horse.

Other factors that increase NSC:

  • Stressors, such as overgrazing, drought, and too much rain
  • Mowing too short – limit mowing height to no less than 5 inches
  • Letting grasses go to seed
  • Fertilization stimulates growth

 

Warm season vs cool season grasses

Warm and cool season grasses behave differently during prolonged intense heat and sunlight[i]. Warm-season grasses (e.g., Coastal Bermuda and Teff) will naturally thrive during very hot, sunny days and accumulate substantial amounts of NSC by day’s end. However, cool-season grasses (e.g., timothy, brome, orchard, crested wheat grass, rye, fescue, as well as alfalfa) will actually be lower in NSC during periods of prolonged heat and sunlight, as long as the grass is adequately watered. This apparent contradiction occurs because heat and light stimulate the cool season plant’s enzymes that burn off NSC.

 

What about cloudy days? 

Here again, there is a difference between warm and cool season grasses. Photosynthesis still takes place during cloudy days. However, clouds usually cool down the temperature. This can potentially decrease NSC in warm weather grasses, but cool season grasses respond to cooler, more moderate temperatures with a higher NSC content.

 

It is a bit of an art form

You have to know your grasses. You can’t be passive about it. The best way to think about the NSC content in your pasture is to first know the type grass you have, which will give you an idea of what climates it prefers. Then, examine the amount of stress the grass is enduring. Stress will cause all grasses to be higher in NSC.

 

The best approach is to test your pasture

 It’s true that testing only provides a snapshot since grasses are living organisms and change from day to day. But you can get a good idea of how your grass is performing by testing early and late in the season.[ii]When testing your pasture:

  • Note the weather conditions on the day before you test
  • Choose a sunny day to take your samples
  • Take an early morning sample and a late afternoon sample and note the weather conditions

 

Interpreting the test results

 There are three measurements to consider:

1)      ESC (ethanol soluble carbohydrates): simple sugars

2)      WSC (water soluble carbohydrates): simple sugars plus fructans (long chains of fructose molecules)

3)      Starch: long chains of glucose molecules

Add ESC + Starch. You want this sum to be less than 11% (on a dry matter basis) to be considered safe for the IR horse. This is because ESC and starch digestion will raise blood glucose and cause a rise in insulin secretion from the pancreas. Elevated blood insulin is the basis for many laminitis cases.

NSC = WSC + Starch. If this number exceeds 13% (on a dry matter basis) and the ESC + Starch sum is below 11%, it tells you that the fructan level is elevated. Fructans do not significantly raise blood insulin and are generally not a concern. However, excessive fructan intake can possibly lead to cecal acidosis and endotoxin-related laminitis as a result of bacterial fermentation in the hindgut.[iii] There is a need for further, in-depth study since a dangerous level has not been established and studies using fructans have inconsistent results.[iv]

Fructans and starches vary according to the type of grasses. Cool season grasses and alfalfa tend to be higher in fructans, while warm season grasses accumulate starch. The sugar content of all grasses, however, can vary dramatically mainly based on environmental factors.

 

Bottom line

Pasture grazing is the best way to keep your horse healthy. Grasses are not only highly nutritious, but grazing supports both physical and mental health. Get to know your grasses and periodically have them analyzed to offer your horses grazing opportunities at the most opportune times and conditions.

 

This article updates and expands information in one of Dr. Getty’s previous Tips of the Month. Permission to reprint this article is granted, provided attribution is given to Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. No editorial changes may be made without her permission. Dr. Getty appreciates being notified of any publication.

 

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide U.S. and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices. Dr. Getty’s goal is to empower the horseperson with the confidence and knowledge to provide the best nutrition for his or her horse’s needs.

 

Dr. Getty’s fundamental resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is now in paperback as well as in hardcover, searchable CD and Kindle versions. All except the Kindle version are available at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com — buy the book there and have it inscribed by the author. Print and Kindle versions are also available at Amazon (www.Amazon.com); find print versions at other online retail bookstores. The seven individual volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered “Spotlight on Equine Nutrition”series are available with special package pricing at her website, and also at Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts for equestrians!

 

Find a world of useful information for the horseperson at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com: Sign up for Dr. Getty’s informative, free e-newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum archives; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Find top-quality supplements, feeders, and other equine-related items, at her online Free Shipping Supplement Store[v]. Reach Dr. Getty directly at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com.

 

 

[i] Watts, K., 2008. The influence of solar radiation and temperature on the diurnal fluctuation of NSC in grass. Rocky Mountain Research & Consulting, Inc. www.safergrass.org

[ii] Equi-Analytical Labs offers instructions on how to test your pasture. www.equi-analytical.com

[iii] Johnson, R.J., Rivard, C., Lanaspa, M.A., Otabachian-Smith, S., et. al., 2013. Fructokinase, fructans, intestinal permeability, and metabolic syndrome: An equine connection? Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 33(2), 120-126.

[iv] Crawford, C., Sepulveda, M.F., Elliott, J., Harris, P.A., and Bailey, S.R., 2017. Dietary fructan carbohydrate increases amine production in the equine large intestine: Implications for pasture-associated laminitis. Journal of Animal Science, 85, 2949-2958.

[v] http://horsesupplements.gettyequinenutrition.biz

 

Hay Before Grain, or Vice Versa?

By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

 

This is a recurring question that I receive. Which should be fed first – hay or grain?  If you’re feeding correctly, this issue is truly a moot point because the horse should have access to forage in hay and/or pasture 24/7 with no gaps. Therefore, when fed concentrates, the horse’s digestive tract should already have hay flowing through it.

But if you were to feed starchy cereal grains (oats, wheat, barley, etc.) on an empty stomach, the horse would produce more acid than normal, which could potentially lead to ulcers. Furthermore, grains leave the stomach quickly, increasing the risk that they will not be fully digested in the small intestine (especially if large amounts are fed), and end up in the hindgut where starch can be fermented by the resident bacterial population. This can lead to endotoxin-related laminitis.

A better approach is to have hay present in the stomach first. It creates a physical barrier for the grain, making it leave the stomach less quickly. The fiber in the hay mixes with the starch and the whole mass enters the small intestine to be digested. Fiber is not digested until it reaches the hind gut, but its presence slows down the digestion of starch, and obstructs the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, leading to a less dramatic rise in insulin.

Permission to reprint this article is granted, provided attribution is given to Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. No editorial changes may be made without her permission. Dr. Getty appreciates being notified of any publication.

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide U.S. and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices. Dr. Getty’s goal is to empower the horseperson with the confidence and knowledge to provide the best nutrition for his or her horse’s needs.

Dr. Getty’s fundamental resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is now in paperback as well as in hardcover, searchable CD and Kindle versions. All except the Kindle version are available at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com — buy the book there and have it inscribed by the author. Print and Kindle versions are also available at Amazon (www.Amazon.com); find print versions at other online retail bookstores. The seven individual volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered “Spotlight on Equine Nutrition” series are available with special package pricing at her website, and also at Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts for equestrians!

 

Find a world of useful information for the horseperson at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com: Sign up for Dr. Getty’s informative, free e-newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum archives; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Find top-quality supplements, feeders, and other equine-related items, at her online Free Shipping Supplement Store[i]. Reach Dr. Getty directly at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com.

 

[i] http://horsesupplements.gettyequinenutrition.biz