Resist the Urge to Feed Lawn Clippings to Horses
Ah…spring! The weather is getting warmer and your lawn is a beautiful, green carpet. At this time of the year, you have to mow the lawn at least once a week, sometimes more frequently, and you generate an immense pile of grass clippings with every cutting. You think – wouldn’t those nice, green, sweet smelling clippings be a wonderful treat for your horse? He eats grass, so why wouldn’t they be good for him? Therefore, when the lawnmower bag is full, you head down to the barn to spoil your horse with a delicious indulgence.
Stop! Before you dump those bags of clippings into a pile at the barn for your horse to eat, consider the dangers that it poses. Grass clippings are the last thing you want to feed to your horse.
Many lawns can contain things that are toxic to horses. Lawn chemicals, such as herbicides and fertilizers can be noxious to a horse and some chemical residues can persist in the grass long after it has been treated. Furthermore, poisonous weeds may be present in a lawn and your horse can’t sort around them when they are chopped up into small pieces by the lawnmower.
Those short clippings that are piled together make it really easy for a horse to grab a big mouthful. He doesn’t really even need to chew it and if he swallows the entire bolus, it can lodge in his esophagus, which can lead to choke. In some cases, the blockage may allow some fluid or food to leak into the trachea and lungs, which may lead to pneumonia. Serious cases of choke can also cause the esophagus to rupture.
The short length of the lawn clippings makes it easy for your horse to eat a lot in a short period of time. Those clippings pass quickly to the hindgut where they are swiftly fermented. Rapid build-up of fermentation end products can lead to colic and/or laminitis.
In addition, the high moisture content of grass clippings coupled with warm temperatures leads to rapid production of molds and mildews in the pile. Horses that consume grass clippings contaminated with mold may experience colic or diarrhea. Furthermore, grass clippings that accumulate in a pile and decay provide ample substrate for the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum to grow and thrive. These bacteria grow in the plant matter and produce a toxin that causes botulism when ingested. The high moisture content of spring grass may lead to rapid production of the toxin. Symptoms of botulism poisoning in horses depends on the amount of toxin ingested and can range from weakness to sudden death.
Resist the urge to feed clippings from your lawn to your horse. While they appear to be a tasty treat, grass clippings may cause your horse to get sick, or worse.