Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Feeding Grass Clippings

It's been a wet spring, and the grass outside practically grows in front of our eyes. We do a lot of mowing of both our lawn and our property, just to keep things looking tidy.

My husband (who just ducked out of this photo) noticed that our two donkeys, Mr. Chocolate and Mr. Big, followed him up and down the fence line whenever he brought the riding mower out. They were not a bit scared of the noisy motor (which would send a lot of animals bolting across the field) and this tickled him immensely.

But we thought it kind of strange, how they'd be attracted to a running lawnmower. Then it dawned on me - they've probably been fed grass clippings at one point in their lives - and they were waiting for someone to toss some over the fence.

Have you ever done this? Don't do it!

Why? - you say - when they eat green grass anyway? Because when animals graze, they have to tear off the blades of grass and chew them. With a pile of grass clippings, they simply gorge themselves, and the lumps of grass in their belly easily ferment and can cause colic.

Why take the chance? Inform your neighbors, also, because sometimes well-meaning people whose lawns border your pasture think either a) a pasture is a convenient place to dump grass clippings, and/or b) they are giving your horses/animals a treat.

Anyone have any experiences with colic from animals eating grass clippings?

Please share your experiences.


Minus Pride said...

interesting...never knew the why behind it, but I was aware of it!!

Jami Davenport said...

Linda, When I kept Gailey at home, I used to feed her grass clippings from time to time, but I was very careful about how I did it.

First of all, I'd use fresh clippings. I'd spread them out on the floor of her stall or another cleared out space rather than dump them in a pile. She'd get about an hour to nibble on them, then I'd rake them up and throw them away. It was a treat for her because her small paddock didn't have grass growing in it. I never did it after the lawn was fertilized, etc.

Perhaps, I shouldn't have done that. Does anyone else have any background on this?

Chelsie said...

The old barn I used to board at used to do this fairly often. It is just one reason, out of many, that I am glad we no are no longer there. They would also through things from their garden into the pasture...

Laura Crum said...

Well, Linda, yes, I have done this. I don't recommend it in general, by the way. I know the risks. When I did it I simply put a double handful of freshly cut grass in each feeder (cut by my weedwhacker, in my own hands, so I knew that it was grass free of any poisonous weeds, which is another reason not to feed mower clippings). It wasn't enough grass to do any harm and no, I never had a problem. But again, I don't recommend it in general. These days I turn the horses loose for an hour each and let them mow the grass themselves, which is far safer. But in the days when my property was not adequately fenced for this, I was guilty of the above crime. I would say that if you choose to do it, feed only a small amount, be sure you are familiar with any weeds on your property that might be poisonous (horses won't normally eat these but chopped fine in mower clippings they can/do), and its safer to feed grass that has been whacked by a weedwhacker and is in relatively large pieces than the chopped fine grass clippings you get from a mower. And absolutely don't feed any grass that is not fresh--like within an hour or two of being cut. But again--I'm not recommending the practice of feeding mower clippings. I do notice that if I have mowed an area, and then turn my horses loose, they will often browse on the mowed clippings, but again, none have ever taken any harm from this.

Linda Benson said...

It is pretty tempting to want green grass for our horses, especially if they are in a small corral or paddock with nothing to graze on. And they love it so much! Maybe a handful or two, spread out, would not hurt, and I'm sure there are people who might say they've been tossing grass clippings over the fence to their horses for years, with no ill effects. But it does make sense to me, how it can ferment, and horses have such delicate stomachs anyway.

Another dangerous practice I've seen in the springtime is tying a horse out on a long rope to munch tall grass. (And yes, when I was very young and had no one to tell me otherwise,I tried this too - once. My horse got tangled up, rope-burned pretty bad, and I couldn't ride him for two months until he healed.) I learned the hard way, and I shudder when I pass horses staked out like this in the springtime.

Hopefully sharing experiences online might keep a horse down the road from colicking from eating grass clippings, or getting tangled up and rope-burned from being staked out to eat grass.

Laura Crum said...

Linda--I know people who stake horses out like that, and sometimes they get by for years--but they always seem to have a wreck in the end. I was never willing to try it, but a friend of mind did, with exactly the same results you had. My friend never tried it again.

If you want to tie a horse so that it can graze, the safest way is to make a high line between two trees and then tie the horse such that it can pull its leadrope along this line--sort of like a dog on a run line. The leadrope should be just long enough so that the horse can reach the grass--no longer. I have done this successfully on many horse packing trips, but the horse can still manage to get tangled up. You need to keep an eye on them because they will sometimes get a front leg over the leadrope. If the horse is the sort that would panic if this happened, you shouldn't try it at all.

My standard practice now is to let one horse out at a time to graze. My property is fenced on three sides and has very steep brushy hills on the fourth side, and so far no horse has ever been willing to leave the herd (and the green grass) to push his way up those steep slopes which are devoid of feed and thick with thorny brush. But I keep a pretty close eye on them when they're out.

Its so true--we all want to give our horses green grass if we can.