Author Topic: debunking fructans  (Read 9153 times)

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Fizzbw

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debunking fructans
« on: April 15, 2010, 04:53:28 PM »
Hi Richard et al

I'm following with interest the fructans debunking going on - but I'm not entirely convinced that anyone has yet actually pin pointed what the problem IS with grass. What are your collective thoughts - as yet I have to see any research that I feel fits with what is predominantly found in the populous.

Anyhoo, would you still recommend that people are better to turn their horses out at night on grass rather than the day? And if so, why, and if not, why!  :D And for people finding that turning out in the night rather than the day, is beneficial, why would that be if fructans are not the culprit?

Are horses in general better kept on hay/haylage and without access, or minimal access to grass, whether they are IR/lami/etc or not?

Fascinating - are there people doing sensible, ethical research out there do you think? I disliked Pollitt (?)'s work for several reasons, not least the ethical implications.

 :D :D

Cheers

Niki xxx

Offline Cloud_cirrus

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2010, 08:23:28 AM »
In my simplistic view of the world I think the problem with grass is that there is often just too much of it, therefore the horse is able to consume more calories than it actually needs.  I also think the grass is often the wrong type, ie over fertilised grass sown for high milk yield cattle and then used for horses when farmers diversified.

I think someone (Katy Watts?) has done some research on calories at different times of the day, I'd need to dig it out but I have read it somewhere I know.

I didn't agree with everything that was said at the Laminitis Awareness day but one thing that did strike a chord with me was the nutritionist from D&H who said you should go out in to your paddock with a carrier bag, some scales and a pair of scissors.  Cut one Kg in weight of grass, if it takes you two hours to do this then turn your horse out to graze on the paddock, if it takes you ten minutes, don't!!!

She also showed a picture of a small hairy pony that was probably as wide as it was tall, it was maybe about 12.2hh high.  The owner called D&H because she said she was struggling to control the ponies weight and that it lived on 'fresh air'.  She then showed us a picture of 1Kg of grass in a round stubbs scoop, the grass was piled high and spilling over the sides, the 'fresh air' pony was consuming 128 scoops, so 128Kg of grass a day, that is hardly 'fresh air'.

I know there are other metabolic and health reasons that can cause horses problems, I have a couple of those myself, but I generally think the main problem with grass is that we just allow our horses to eat too much of it, and they don't get worked enough to use the calories. 

Grasses are cereals, I don't think we tend to think of them like that though.

Offline Belbe

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2010, 01:31:35 PM »
I read somewhere a comparison tween horses and american indians: meaning both haven't been living on high calorie diet long enough to addapt so most of the indian people suffers from insulin resistance these days and so do horses, and even worse, foals that grew up on high calorie diets have a much higher level of resistence to insulin than horses who get it much later in life.
You can also see how breeds that have been used by man on richer lands for longer are a lot less sensitive to rich feeds than ones who have not (like ponies, pony crosses, icelandics, and other "native" breeds), same thing is seen tween the indians and say, Europeans, who've been overendulging for milenia.  :whistle:

Anyway, to me, the biggest problem that horses have and people do not, is the fact that it's the gut flora that digests their food for them! meaning that, appart from concerning ourselves with the effects of calorie overload in the body (wich could be easily overcome by corresponding intense exercise), you have to worry about overloading the microflora/fauna in the gut! this is always acompained by excess gas production, pH changes, microflora/fauna population species changes! and this last one is really worriesom.

so, I don really know what's so complicated about horse feeding. You simply have to understand that they where meant to east all day long scrapes of this and that and tha when they do eat something "strong" it's for a short while because predator know those spots are where they'll find more prey. What is complicated is applying this basic knolage to our horse keeping practices.

One idea, wich i'll be trying this year, is seeding the field with starch building grass species instead of fructan ones, because the buildup of starch is limited whilst fructan is not. These grasses are often used for gardens, they where never bred to be tasty, so are a lot less likely to have tons of sugars. "Only problem" with these grasses i that animals don't really find them apetizing... but then again, I really don't whant them to!
Kikuyu is a good example, it's resistant to draught, steping over, overgrazing, preety much anything, and because it's starch pockets are limited, one doesn't have to worry these situations will make the grass dangerous. It's also tough enough to have the horse work those teeth smooth on his own (one hopes!). My colt is not particularly fond of it but will nibble for hours, wich is what a horse is supposed to do. In the event the horse won't eat enough of it, you can always supplement with some safe concentrate feed.

I'll be sure to add more info on my "experiment" once I test it further.

You can find a lot of useful information in this site
http://www.safergrass.org/
"... you leave it to horse people to put tradition ahead of science." _Pete Ramey

Offline tubby

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2010, 08:11:41 PM »
Cloud cirrus ,feel you've got a good point there.After all all the species of "corn" are just grass that's been bred with a view to producing larger seed heads.Really don't know what it is about grass but my pony is really sensitive to it so never goes out without his muzzle on ( mind you he lives on the edge of the Cheshire plains so the grass here is cow grass :rolleyes:).At the moment even with a muzzle on he only goes out for approx 3 1/2 hrs as if I leave him for only an extra 1/2 hr he tends to develop a slight digital pulse.Keeping him from going footy over stones is what my life revolves round :sad:( mind you he's a cracking pony when he behaves :laugh: ).Frozen grass doesn't seem to affect him at all so far, cross fingers & touch wood ( supersticous me never ;) )

Offline thegaffer

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2010, 08:48:43 PM »
Hmmmh,

Prior to moving my horse to this yard he has been on a dairy farm and ex dairy farm without any problems.  The yard I'm at now and have been for the past 3 years which is when all the symptoms started hasn't seen an ounce of fertilizer in 20 years.

The owner breeds welsh cobs so is fully aware of weight/grass issues.

The land is harrowed and rolled only.  It is grazed 24/7 365 days of the year.  No muck spreading, fertilizer, etc.

The only fields that get rested are the haylage fields and the ponies don't come off them until May.  The fields are also cut late.

So what could cause the problems here?

Heather

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2010, 10:47:48 PM »
Don't know Heather, is there more acreage and less horses? 

I did notice with my herd that I could pretty much do what I wanted with them up to around the age of 8.  I was one of those traditional show types that always had the ponies looking very well and this was fine and I had no problems, but as soon as their metabolism slowed down in turn I ran in to problems.  These were ponies that were out 24/7 in the same field, never fertilised or sprayed.  Course I didn't know anything about grass, laminitis and metabolism then, so in turn they were all shod which bought me a little bit more time but in the end I stopped showing them because 'they had lost their movement'.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I'm just pleased I still have a couple of them and they have a better life now.  They pretty much wear muzzles 365 days a year and come off the paddock for about 12 hours per day.

Offline Belbe

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2010, 12:57:20 AM »
hasn't seen an ounce of fertilizer in 20 years.

Heather

hmmm, if sugars/fructans are really to blame, then as far as i know, any stress to the plant makes it build them up! lack of nutrition (fertilizer) is also stressful, but maybe someone who knows about agriculture can correct me.
"... you leave it to horse people to put tradition ahead of science." _Pete Ramey

Offline Cloud_cirrus

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2010, 07:35:18 AM »
I think the only way to really know your paddock is to have both the grass and soil tested, at various times of the year.  We have had our soil tested, grass and hay (from the paddock) is next on the list.

The variety of grasses make a difference as well, we have a lot of clover in our paddocks which is a complete pain.  I was once told by my vet that weeds actually contain more sugars than grass but I'm not sure what evidence he was basing that on.

Offline rvialls

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2010, 09:21:47 AM »
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I'm not entirely convinced that anyone has yet actually pin pointed what the problem IS with grass

That's because we don't have a clue about much to do with laminitis as yet. However, here are my thoughts for what they're worth...

Typical pasture has been fertilised at least some and often a lot. The result is that the dominant species is rye grass. Overall the pasture will be high in sugar and low in fibre. There is also typically a lot of productivity so the horse has to be kept on quite a small area so as not to get too many calories. The result is a high sugar, low fibre diet and not much exercise as the horse has all it can eat right in front of its nose. Basically this is couch potatoe syndrome.

However, the problem is clearly not as simple as just fibre/sugar content. The mineral content of the pasture will have some impact as well. I've got one yard where the molybdenum levels in the soil are really high and all the horses are sick as a result. And I've got another yard (half way up a mountain) where the pasture is acidic and all the minerals have leached out - resulting in multiple deficiencies (seleniun, copper, cobalt, zinc, magnesium being the worst ones). These kind of mineral imbalances can be a major problem for horses and even the most ideal looking pasture can turn out to be badly balanced.

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would you still recommend that people are better to turn their horses out at night on grass rather than the day?

Yes. The sugar levels are lower at night and even if you don't know what has caused the insulin resistance (assuming that's the problem - not all cases are insulin resistant), that's going to be less likely to trigger an attack. I've seen lots of cases where horses do better when turned out at night rather than during the day.

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Are horses in general better kept on hay/haylage and without access, or minimal access to grass, whether they are IR/lami/etc or not?

In general, I'd say yes. It would seem that dried forage is less of a problem than fresh for most horses. Is that because the sugar levels are lower in hay/haylage? I'm not totally sure. But then I've seen the reverse situation - which may be because the dried forage has come from somewhere that's got less good mineral balance than the available grass. So as usual, it's not simple.

As for Kathy Watts and safergrass.org, please be careful here. Firstly, this is a US based site and the grass species over there are quite different from, say, the UK. For example, I gather fescues are a major problem in the US, whereas the species of fescues we have in the UK generally seem quite good for horses. I also, personally, think that Kathy's standard of research is so low I'd not even bother reading anything of hers any more - but that's just my opinion as a scientist  :whistle:

I also liked the nutritionist's comments about how long it took to cut 1kg of grass with scissors - a very good way of looking at it (if rather painful to actually do!)

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One idea, wich i'll be trying this year, is seeding the field with starch building grass species instead of fructan ones

I often hear people saying that they want to plough up and reseed with 'better' grasses. There are two problems with this. The first is that we still don't have a clue what a healthy 'wild' horse is supposed to eat (mainly because there aren't any truly wild horses left to study - I suspect wild zebras are likely to be the best study). Given that, how can we decide which type of grass is going to be good?

But the more serious problem is that pasture isn't like some flower bed where you can plant a few seeds and then weed out the weeds so your chosen plants prosper. Unless you plan to weed your entire field by hand, you're going to have a dynamic ecosystem where survival of the fittest rules will be in play. The pasture you have now (unless it's been recently reseeded) will consist of the mix of plants best adapted to survive in the prevailing conditions (soil type and acidity, rainfall, temperature, aspect, etc.). If you reseed with different plants, you are pretty much guaranteed to be seeding plants that are less capable of surviving. All that will happen is that the previous plants will have seed in the ground and seed will come in from surrounding areas and the plants that are best adapted (i.e. what was there before) will happily out compete your prefered plants. Typically within 1-2 years you'll find that your chosen plants are doing badly and within 3-4 you'll be pretty much right back where you started. The best way (and pretty much the only effective one) to change a pasture is to change the prevailing conditions. And the biggest problem there (at least in most UK fields anyway) is fertility. Once artificial fertilisers have been applied, you can't easily get the fertility down again - so the kinds of grasses that are suggested as possibly better for horses won't survive (rye grass will outcompete just about anything in a high fertility pasture). The best way to do it is to heavily graze and cut - but you're looking at 20-30 years to get the fertility down to sensible levels. Alternatively you can turf-strip but in the UK, that requires a mineral extraction license.

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After all all the species of "corn" are just grass that's been bred with a view to producing larger seed heads

Yes, but there's a difference between feeding leafage and seed heads. For example, oat straw is higher in fibre and lower in sugar than grass hay, but in comparison oat seeds are quite high in sugar/starch and much lower in fibre.

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mmm, if sugars/fructans are really to blame, then as far as i know, any stress to the plant makes it build them up! lack of nutrition (fertilizer) is also stressful, but maybe someone who knows about agriculture can correct me.

Sadly this is yet more myth being put about by people who really don't know what they're doing. Firstly, lets cut the fructans out of the argument as the numbers totally fail to add up. So we're talking here about what brings grass sugar levels up in general. There is actually NO evidence whatsoever that lack of fertiliser is 'stressful' and causes sugar levels to rise. The issue here is that fertility drops VERY slowly (see my comments about 20-30 year timescales above). If you stop fertilising, you won't see any appreciable difference in fertility for several years. As the fertility drops, species that are better at coping at slightly lower fertility levels will gradually out-compete the species that do best at higher fertility levels.  At any point in that cycle, there will be a few plants that are struggling a bit and might be described as 'stressed' (although there's no evidence that this raises sugar levels anyway), but there'll also be some plants doing a bit better. As the process is very slow it's a very small effect. Now Kathy Watts and her cohorts tell us that this is a big problem and we should apply fertiliser. If we do that, the fertility jumps upwards very suddenly. Now suddenly we have a pasture full of plants best suited to lower fertility but the fertility is too high for them. The balance of plant species present is going to change quite rapidly (perhaps over a few weeks) potentially resulting in far more stressed plants than in the previous case.

So if you accept that grass suffering fertility stress is higher in sugar and therefore bad for horses with laminitis (which is a BIG assumption given the available evidence), then the absolute WORST thing you can do is apply fertiliser because that's going to create a rapid change and therefore higher levels of stress than just leaving things alone.

Interestingly, I see quite a few laminitis cases caused by putting horses on recently fertilised pasture - although my suspicion is that it's nothing to do with 'stressed' grass and everything to do with the change in mineral availability caused by putting high availability nitrogen, potassium and phosphate onto pasture that are already excessively high in these minerals.

What's so frustrating for me is that these kinds of myths about the links between pasture and laminitis continue to be propagated by a lot of people who really should know better. The problem of course is that there's no-one in the laminitis research area with any detailed knowledge of grassland ecology. And the people who have appointed themselves as the experts in this field are often amateurs who really don't have sufficient background to know what they're doing.

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We have had our soil tested,

Not much point in that as minerals can be present in the soil in forms that plants can't access. So you might see a nice healthy copper level in the soil, but the grass is low in it. I always recommend testing forage rather than soil as it gives a much clearer picture.

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I was once told by my vet that weeds actually contain more sugars than grass but I'm not sure what evidence he was basing that on.

Neither am I :rolleyes: This is exactly what I'm talking about above. Firstly, you have to define 'weeds'. Is clover a weed or an agricultural pasture species introduced to increase protein content of the pasture? Is a fescue a weed or a grass better adapted to lower fertility levels? Technically a weed is just an 'undesirable' plant - but that means it's dependent on context. A weed for a dairy farmer may well be exactly what we want our horses to be eating! So basically weeds can be all sorts of different plants and the sugar content is going to vary wildly depending on which plant you're looking at. The trouble is that people act on this kind of misinformation and often end up doing completely the wrong thing. One of my clients used broadleaf herbicide to kill all the 'weeds' in her field so that it would be better for her horse - she followed the manufacturer's advice on the period to exclude her horse and still manage to poison her to the point where she had a massive laminitis attack (she'd been absolutely fine before).

I am constantly horrified by how much misinformation is given out by vets and other horse experts - much of which if acted upon seems to make the laminitis problem far worse.

Fizzbw

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #9 on: April 17, 2010, 12:05:58 PM »
Very interesting! Thank you muchly all of you - a fine example of what we all don't know! Its so frustrating isn't it. The anecdotal evidence is further complicated by the wide range of differences between one horse and another.

Richard you have made me feel happier about my situation though - two shetlands (one previous lami) and a possible IR connie on old railway - very little grass, short and "stressed"  ;) lots of "weeds" which they eat at particular time of the year, and lots of trees and hedge rows they browse on. Its long and thin as well so they do have to move to get browsing. I feed soaked hay (two cough so that helps as well). Both my vets have praised the set up though...

Have yet to analyse my forage - have no hay corer and have been cogitating on how many bales I need to split to sample, plus whether I should analyse the soaked hay or the dry hay, given I am not going to stop soaking it for a while - I think it is not that low in sugar as the farmers cows are going well on it...hence now soaking it for longer. I have had the connies hair analysed and he is not low in anything and only high in iron (which may be due to vit E deficiency, I'd not been supplementing it as I didn't realise that this was needed on a mainly hay diet).

Thank you for the info everyone its great stuff!

Niki xxx


lisaNW

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2010, 07:53:23 PM »
I think IGER (Institute of grassland research) have had people involved in lami research so some input from the grassland experts should be filtering in gradually...agree though it's scary how many vets offer dodgy advice...been on the receiving end of that one plenty!


Offline rvialls

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #11 on: April 17, 2010, 08:26:13 PM »
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lots of "weeds" which they eat at particular time of the year, and lots of trees and hedge rows they browse on

That's good as far as I'm concerned. The 'weeds' here are probably the kind of perennial, deep-rooted plants that are extremely good at bringing up trace elements from deep soil (whereas shallow rooted plants such as rye grass tend to gradually deplete the surface trace elements as they only have roots a few cm deep). An old railway line is probably quite poor fertility-wise which tends to mean less sugar and more fibre and also tends to encourage a high species diversity (which again will provide a larger range of micronutrients than a pasture that is mostly made up of rye grass).

The trees and shrubs are also good for horses (so long as there are no poisonous garden escapes like privet). Horses naturally in the 'wild' eat a significant proportion of trees and shrubs in their diet (including the wood from small twigs as well as the leaves) which again will provide a larger range of micronutrients (trees have VERY deep roots so pull up all sorts of nice trace minerals) as well as being much higher in fibre.

I get so many people complaining that their horses are chewing wood, as if this is a problem - the only problem is we don't tend to provide them with a source of wood fibre so they go and eat fences (which are often treated with nasty chemicals) and stable doors (which are often painted). The solution is not to paint cribox on the stable door but to cut down a few small branches for the horse to chew on naturally (my horses absolutely love ash branches). That not only helps them keep their teeth in good shape but also is a really good source of dietary fibre.

I like to think of the combination of a species rich meadow plus a few juicy hedgerows to nibble at as the equivalent for a horse of our 5 portions a day of fruit and veg. Whereas the rye grass dairy pasture with the hedgerows fenced off is the equivalent of eating junk food all day.

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I think IGER (Institute of grassland research) have had people involved in lami research so some input from the grassland experts should be filtering in gradually

Err... IGER (they've changed their name now to something totally unmemorable) were the ones who spawned Annette Longland (the originator of the dreaded fructans model) in the first place! They're also the people who've spent the last 60 years breeding varieties of rye grass with ever high sugar content and ever lower fibre content (with a view to increasing dairy yields). There's a recent publication from them where they boast that they've increase the sugar content in rye grass by 30% in the last 10 years.

So I guess you'll forgive me if I don't hold my breath when it comes to sensible advice on pasture management for laminitis coming out of IGER  :wall:

Offline Cloud_cirrus

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2010, 08:51:30 PM »
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Not much point in that as minerals can be present in the soil in forms that plants can't access. So you might see a nice healthy copper level in the soil, but the grass is low in it. I always recommend testing forage rather than soil as it gives a much clearer picture.

We actually had our soil tested for heavy metals Richard which told us the levels of arsenic, iron, aluminium, molybdenum etc.  This was because we had a horse hair tested that showed up high for arsenic, iron, aluminium, molybdenum etc so we were trying to identify what the trigger was because this horse actually had no access to grass (or directly soil).  As part of this test we had two water supplies (mains and run-off), soil, sand, bedding, and wood surface arena tested, all of which came back at acceptable/low levels.  I think with this actual horse what we were seeing was a metabolic inability to deal with things that actually were common in the environment, rather than the horse consuming something that was causing these issues.

Like I say though we still have forage and grass to test, there wasn't much priority continuing with the tests as the horse was pts just after Christmas due to an injury.

What is interesting though is that his turnout companion, who lives in the same environment, is responding well to the removal of all grass based forage.  We now know longer feed him soaked hay (cut from our own land) or hay chaff (Simple System) instead of which his forage is comprised of oat straw and alfalfa along with unmollassed sugar beet.  So far he is making good progress on this diet.  On paper there is no real difference between the NSC of his current diet and his previous one, both are well under 10%, we did know that he didn't cope with grass well, which is why he was kept grass free, however it now looks like he is better with no grass derived forage at all.

Offline rvialls

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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #13 on: April 18, 2010, 04:30:02 PM »
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We actually had our soil tested for heavy metals Richard which told us the levels of arsenic, iron, aluminium, molybdenum etc.

I'd still rather test the forage even when looking for toxic minerals - for exactly the same reasons. For example, the pH of the soil can significantly affect the uptake of some minerals that are toxic in high levels. We have very high iron and manganese levels on our land (both minerals are essential for horses, but toxic at high levels). We've been able to significantly reduce the levels of iron and manganese in the forage by liming the land and hence increasing the pH, but the soil levels will be exactly the same as they were before.

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this horse actually had no access to grass (or directly soil)... As part of this test we had two water supplies (mains and run-off), soil, sand, bedding, and wood surface arena tested, all of which came back at acceptable/low levels

I guess that leaves two options as you say: either the forage was high in toxins or the horse was unable to excrete the normal levels of toxic minerals present in most diets (something which seems to be an issue for some humans as well).

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What is interesting though is that his turnout companion, who lives in the same environment, is responding well to the removal of all grass based forage

You do occassionally get horses who are allergic in some way to grass - which can cause some very wierd issues that are hard to track down.


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Re: debunking fructans
« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2010, 10:09:54 AM »
rvialls,

on the kikuyu comment, I do know a thing or 2 about grass and I chose this plant specificalyy because it outgrows all other species. In africa (place of origin) it's considered a plague, in Hawai it's the main forage and it can be used from sea level to 6000ft. The only species that is known to be able to compete with it is a species of festuca wich my dad must know the name, I don't recall righ now, however, none will outgrow the other in most stances, they'll just keep fighting. Anyway, here it's used for gardens and no weeds or different grasses are ever able to grow once it's properly settled.
Now apart from this, I've tested soil corrections of PH so other minerals become readily available, there are also Nitrogen based fertilizers these days that have such a slow absobtion that will get the grass growing thick and full of fibre all year long (no crasy growth sprouts), etc. We've tested all this and it works. The only thing I'm lacking now is a thorough grass analysis to figure out what minerals and vitamins is this grass actually able to get from the soil and leave available to the horse, and wich it does not so I can supplement those.

Obviously, I'm not saying this is the ideal setup for a horse! It should be able to have as much variety to sort from as possible, but I realy doubt horses where meant to live in soil as fertile as ours, so I believe in our situation, this is the wisest choice. One can always add non poisonous trees and shrubs to the setup but grass-wise, I'm going with the one plant I know will kick out the sugar party grass species we have spread all over the island! (S. Miguel is basically woods and dairy cattle, all over! just googleEarth it!  :doh:)
« Last Edit: April 19, 2010, 10:24:02 AM by Belbe »
"... you leave it to horse people to put tradition ahead of science." _Pete Ramey