Research Shows Strip Grazing Can be more Beneficial than Free Grazing

13 February 2024

Recent research carried out has shown that strip grazing  can deliver a steadier supply of nutrients than free grazing. 

The study concluded that after rapid spring grass growth has stopped, strip grazing can deliver a steadier nutrient supply to horses than when they have free access to restricted grazing. The new study, “Strip grazing: changes in biomass, nutrient content and digestibility of temperate, midsummer pasture by strip-grazed or ‘free’-grazing ponies, over four weeks”, was conducted by Annette Longland, of Equine Livestock and Nutrition Services, in partnership with Spillers and the Waltham Equine Studies Group.

A previous study conducted in association with the Spillers brand has already shown that strip grazing can be an effective way of restricting grass intake to help manage the bodyweight of pastured ponies, although the reasons for this were not made clear. This follow-up research highlights the advantages of consistent nutrient intake that may be offered by strip grazing.

A dozen ponies were grazed in long, narrow paddocks designed to yield herbage equivalent to 1.5% (dry matter) of their bodyweight per day for 28 days from June to late July. Results showed the ponies had access to herbage of more consistent nutritive quality compared to ponies with free access to the same amount of original herbage.

“This study gives us some important practical take home messages regarding weight management and potentially the management of associated disorders such as insulin dysregulation and laminitis,” said Sarah Nelson, Product Manager at Mars Horsecare, home of the Spillers brand. “Strip grazing in this study prevented rapid weight gains by providing gradual access to fresh pasture of decreasing nutrient value and preventing aggressive selective grazing.

“This work shows how strip grazing, if carried out appropriately, can be an effective weight management tool especially once the very rapid, spring growth is over. However, it is important to remember that even strip grazing on high non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) containing pastures may not be suitable for some laminitis prone equids, especially those that are at high risk or at certain times of year.”

With grass growing in abundance at this time of year, the risk of weight gain and associated health problems is significantly increased. This applies to all breeds and types of horses and ponies. Strip grazing refers to sectioning off a smaller area of your field by using electric fencing, which is moved to give field occupants controlled and gradual access to fresh pasture. It’s suitable for horses and ponies grazing individually as well as for those grazing in groups — as long as the field is wide enough to enable every member of the group to access the new grass without any conflict. As with any type of turnout, daily poo-picking should be an essential part of your grazing management and worm control plan.

You can find resources and guidance on the Yard Owner Hub in relation to weight management, grazing management and routine equine care. 

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