Horses eat a lot more than the casual observer would think. They’re big animals, after all, weighing up to 2,000lbs, with even the smaller breeds topping out at 900lbs. They can also easily consume 25lbs of grass in a single 24-hour window.
Never let horses graze on freshly mown grass at all. The waiting period should be enough to allow the grass to grow up to five or six inches in height before you allow horses to return to grazing in an area that has been recently mowed.
There are a lot of reasons for this, and not all of them—not even most of them—pertain to just the grass and its ability to regrow. Instead, many of the reasons revolve solely around horses’ health if you let them graze on a freshly mown pasture.
Why Would Freshly Mown Grass Hurt A Horse?
Freshly mown grass travels too quickly into the horses’ digestive system, causing various issues from the very minor to the kind that requires a visit from the vet.
Some people may look at horses and think they’re lazy eaters as they slowly make their way across a pasture.
However, it’s not that the horse is lazy. It’s that it’s picky. Horses like to carefully pick their next bite by determining which grass is suitable as they go along.
For one of the same reasons you don’t cut grass right before a frost, you shouldn’t let horses feed on fresh grass clippings.
Damaged grass is an attractant for bacteria and fungus, not the kind that’s helpful in the digestion tract.
A scientific study produced in May of 2000 went so far as to suggest that digestive diseases were the third-largest reason for horse deaths.
So it’s a serious and common issue that veterinarians must warn horse owners not to do it consistently.
Botulism is caused as a byproduct of bacteria, a toxic excretion that’s extremely dangerous to all mammals but most especially to horses. It can destroy muscle tone, induce paralysis, shut down the respiratory muscles, and dilate a horse’s eyes.
Choke is exactly what it sounds like. When a horse consumes too much, too quickly—far easier to do when there is a ton of fresh grass clippings on the ground—it gets “balled” up and refuses to pass down the esophagus. So, essentially, The horse is choking to death.
Colic is already a common issue in horses. Eating a bunch of fresh grass clippings isn’t very suitable for a horse’s digestive system and, more often than not, is not something they’re used to eating regularly.
As a result, excess gas is created, which expands the gut disproportionately so that the horse cannot perform the essential functions of burping or regurgitation so the body can get rid of the grass.
Laminitis is another frequent issue in horses. When it comes to fresh grass clippings, it’s the result of a chain reaction. First, fresh grass is loaded with carbohydrates.
Unused carbohydrates turn into sugar. That’s true of just about every mammal.
In horses, the massive conversion of carbohydrates into sugar is very destructive in the horses’ gut, causing inflammation throughout the body.
The predominant location of the inflammation is in a horse’s feet. But horses can’t stand if their feet are inflamed, so down they go.
How Long After Cutting Can A Horse Eat Grass Clippings?
This will depend on the weather and the humidity. Grass clippings need to lose around 80% of their moisture before it’s probably safe for a horse to eat.
The moister it is, the more it will clump together in a horse’s throat and digestive system, causing the problems listed above.
One of the best methods to use is mowing in sections. Freshly mown sections of lawn or pasture shouldn’t have any horses on them until the grass clippings have reached a point where they’ve lost 80% of their moisture.
If you want to expedite the process, take a few passes over the area you’ve already mowed with a drag mat or something similar.
The idea is to spread the accumulated rows of fresh-cut grass out so that it will dry faster as it will have more exposure to the sun and air.
Once grass clippings have sufficiently dried, there are typically no more bacteria, mold, or fungus that can survive on it.
Also, dried grass is tougher, and horses will have to spend more time chewing it. This helps break it down better before its swallowed and passes through the digestive system.
How To Dry Grass Clippings Faster
The goal is to get the grass clippings to a point where it is safe for horses to consume.
You can do several things to hasten the process, such as spreading it out or mowing at specific times.
- Use a drag mat to spread the grass clumps out
- Mow when the grass is already at its driest
- Pay attention to the weather before mowing
The drag mat, as mentioned earlier, is an excellent way to get your grass clumps spread out so they can dry faster.
The more clumped up they are, the less the grass underneath is exposed to the air and sun, taking it longer to dry.
It’s not always easy, especially when the grass is getting too high and needs mowing, but you always try to wait until the grass is already at its driest before you cut it.
Never mow early in the mornings, and never mow directly after or before the rain, even if it’s just a light sprinkle.
It’s best to wait until the dew burns off from the exposure to the wind and sun after the early morning hours.
However, no one wants to mow at the hottest part of the day, so try to time it right and hit it in the mid to late morning hours.
Can You Make Hay Out Of Grass Clippings?
Hay is usually an accumulation of longer grass rather than grass clippings, but yes, you can make your own hay out of your grass clippings.
While it might not form up like those giant rolls you see displayed all over large pastures, you can make significant piles out of it.
To gather it in great, big piles, you’ll want a lawn sweeper, preferably the Ohio Steel Professional Tandem Lawn Sweeper.
As mentioned above—concerning when to mow grass—you’ll want to gather grass clippings after they’ve had time to dry out enough to make good horse feed.
You’ll also want to gather them on a bright, sunny day, not during wet or humid weather.
Not only will gathering it up into big piles for the horses help feed them, but it will also make the areas where they usually graze safer, as the remaining grass clippings will dry faster with more exposure to the open air and sunlight.
Gathering your grass clippings into hay for the horses to eat is a great way to maintain your lawn. However, avoid allowing the horses to eat grass clippings that aren’t adequately dried, and supply them with a safe, dry meal on rainy days when they’re under shelter or resting for the evening.