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Pasture Management Ideas to Keep Sugars Low in Grass

Pasture Management Ideas to Keep Sugars Low in Grass

Many people don’t realize that they can control the sugars in their pastures and in turn, better manage their horses blood sugar levels. We’ve put together some information to help you optimally manage your pastures.

Practice rotational grazing- Rather than keeping your horse on the same pasture all the time, get some portable electric fencing and partition your field into different areas and rotate your horses through. Take your horses off the grass once it gets down to 3-4 inches and let the field rest. Here is a link to a great article by Penn State University on “How to Make Rotational Grazing Work on Your Horse Farm” https://extension.psu.edu/how-to-make-rotational-grazing-work-on-your-horse-farm


Fertilize your pastures based on a soil test to ensure that your grasses have the proper nutrients for optimal growth. Here is a link to an article written by the University of Missouri describing how to sample your soil properly and where to submit the samples. https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/g9215

Here are some links on Nutrient and Fertilization management for Horse Pastures.

Keep pasture grass length around 6-8 inches. When the grass gets taller than that it will start to go to seed and seeds have very high sugar content. When grass gets to 3-4 inches tall horses should be taken off of it. Grass shorter than 3-4 inches in length is high in sugar content. 

This is why:

Short grass is putting energy into new growth increasing the sugar content by storing Non-Structural Carbohydrates (NSCs) (sugars/starches) in preparation for when growing conditions improve.

Each bite of grass has a higher sugar to fiber ratio.

The satiety response in a horse is triggered by a certain volume of fiber in its stomach. Eating grass with a high sugar to fiber ratio will not give horses a feeling of being full or satiated and they will continue to eat much more than they actually need.

This article goes into more detail about the differences between long and short grass



Turn out horses in the very early morning and bring them in by 10-11 a.m. Grass is the lowest in sugars in the morning before the sun is at its peak.

Do not turn out horses in the pasture after a night of frost.

As temperatures decline to near freezing plant respiration slows down, causing plants to hold their sugar overnight. Freezing can stop respiration and lock the sugar in the plant for over a week. According to the University of Minnesota, “To prevent the risk of colic and founder, keep horses off of pastures for at least a week after a killing frost.”

https://extension.umn.edu/horse-pastures-and-facilities/horse-pasture-drought-and-frost- concerns#increased-colic-and-founder-risk-1534461

Pastures that are drought-stressed are higher in sugars so make sure to keep pasture well-watered. 

Here are 5 tips on how to manage your pastures during a drought.

  1. Rest your pasture and delay grazing until plants have become well established.
  2. Plant a variety of native or drought-resistant grasses
  3. Take out weeds or plants your horses do not graze on. These plants pull water,
    nutrients, and sunlight from desired grasses.
  4. Re-seed or introduce a legume to bare areas.
  5. Water at night so there is the least water wasted to evaporation

https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/natural-resources/managing-small-acreage-pastures-during-and-after-drought-6-112/ https://extension.psu.edu/managing-horse-pasture-during-and-after-a-drought

Turn out horses on a shady pasture or on a cloudy day. Plant some trees either in your pasture or along the fence to create more shade. Put up shade cloths to create a groovy-looking pasture.

Additional References:

  • https://www.safergrass.org/managing-grass-for-lower-sugar
  • https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/natural-resources/managing-small-acreage-pastures-during-and-after-drought-6-112/
  • https://extension.psu.edu/managing-horse-pasture-during-and-after-a-drought