Draft Horses Pasturage

Draft Horses Pasturage

Draft Horses Pasturage It is wonderful how efficiently a grass pasture can supply all the requirements for food. When old and rich, it will (unassisted by corn) sustain farm horses through their summer work. It is a common but improper custom to turn farm horses out to grass, and re-stable them at fixed times, regardless of weather, state of the pasture, pressure of work, and many other considerations which ought to regulate those periods.

The practice of grazing sound and healthy farm horses is frequently condemned as wasteful; it is said they spoil far more food than they eat, and that a more economical method is to soil them in foldyards upon cut clovers and other kinds of green food. That there will be less waste of material by the adoption of the latter process is certain, but the benefits to be derived from the enjoyment of pure air and liberty must be sacrificed.

Young horses especially, and farm horses of all ages, benefit by being pastured in summer. Aged horses should never be allowed to lose condition, as some do if exposed, and the corn allowance reduced; if turning to grass tends to that end, the usual manger food should be continued during the time they are pastured, or stable shelter allowed, and green food supplied in the rack.

When suspension from work is prescribed for town horses suffering from lameness or ‘ grogginess,’ it is often considered desirable on economic grounds to send them to pasture; if the lameness is slight there is no objection to the practice for horses under seven or eight years old, but it is very unwise to send away horses to graze that are suffering from painful wounds, or sprains to tendons and ligaments (at least until the acute symptoms have abated in intensity), and from all descriptions of lameness where rest is an important auxiliary to surgical treatment.

Horses that have been worked with bearing-reins and those that have been continuously stabled for several years, frequently experience great difficulty in obtaining sufficient food in a good pasture; on inferior grazing-ground they are often brought to the verge of starvation during the first two or three weeks of being turned out; after that time they usually but not invariably acquire greater facility in grazing.

Those having undue length of foreleg, and others with disproportionately short necks, always lose flesh at pasture. It is never wise to graze old town draught horses; they lose condition rapidly, and when restabled take so long to regain it that they are worn out before the owner is repaid the cost he has thereby incurred.

Green Food.

Grass of very succulent quality, and especially that grown on water meadows and sewage irrigation land, contains extraordinarily little nutriment, and is unsuited to the requirements of working horses.

Tares or vetches are admirably adapted for, and are much liked by, horses; those sown in the spring coming in late in summer, when pastures often afford a limited bite, are especially useful, whilst winter tares are especially desirable for spring food on arable farms. Vetches under all circumstances, and grass when wet with rain or dew, should not be given for some time after being mown.

When horses are supplied with their early spring ration of green food, they are apt to eat too greedily; for the first few days it is advisable to limit the quantity and supply it to them after the manger food has been eaten; subsequently the allowances may be increased, or the horses turned to pasture, without fear of bad results.

It is my usual custom to recommend for town horses that the green food be always given chopped, and mixed with hay, chaff, and corn. The same practice adopted for farming horses would be equally beneficial and economical.

Quantity of Food Required

A selection of diet having been determined upon by careful estimation of the relative feeding value and comparative cost of each article, the horse-owner’s next consideration must refer to the quantity suited to the circumstances of his team.

To preserve a just balance between food and work, which the condition of the horses will accurately demonstrate, the farmer must be quick to increase, and as prompt to diminish, the corn allowance as demands for it are created or disappear. The amount of dry food a cart horse will consume is governed by several circumstances, such as its quality and the nature or severity of the work, age and condition of the animal, season of the year, etc.

The weight of dry food absolutely consumed by an average-sized, well-conditioned cart horse, moderately worked, regularly fed, well housed, and supplied with diet of excellent quality, is from 29 to 34 lb. daily, of which the hay and straw should constitute about two-fifths. However nutritious the food may be, less than 29 lb. will not suffice to maintain the digestive organs in healthy action.

If the quality of the food is not sufficiently rich to supply material for the repair of tissue waste, an attempt to meet the deficiency will be made by the consumption of an increased quantity. A superabundant supply of innutritious provender to compensate for deficiency in quality not only embarrasses the digestive functions but handicaps a horse with an incubus of bulky dead-weight.

Horses severely worked eat more than those moderately used, and ought to be supplied with concentrated food, rich in flesh forming principles and easy of digestion. Idle horses, and those very lightly worked, will require a daily allowance of about 30 lb.; but the quality must be in due accord with their absolute requirements.

Horses of four and five years old require rather more food than those of mature age; whilst old horses require both a larger, more easily digestible, and nutritious diet than younger animals.

Conditions exert considerable influence upon the consumption of food; poor horses eat larger quantities and require a more nutritious diet than horses whose condition, being established, requires only to be maintained.

Farm horses are usually subjected to severe work during the autumn months, and their systems are called upon simultaneously to furnish material for the elaboration and growth of their thick winter hairy covering —a combination of circumstances producing excessive drain upon nutrition, and one demanding to be met by a more liberal diet than is required at any other period.

The farmer who would have his teams in condition fit to fulfil their autumnal and winter labors must not be sparing of his corn during the months of October and November.

Preparation of Food

Preparation of the provender is also an important consideration in reference to economy and efficiency of feeding. Horses possessing perfect powers of mastication and digestion are capable of extracting nutriment from raw and unbroken grain; but as every normal abridgment of labor conduces to economical result, the practice of crushing the allowance of raw corn is beneficial. It suffices if oats and barley are bruised just sufficient to break the outer skin; maize, beans, and peas should not be pulverized, but simply cracked or split.

Opinions vary regarding the expediency of cooking grain for horses. I think the supporters of each view may be correct, and that diversity of opinion has arisen from dissimilarity of circumstances. For healthy horses performing more than an average amount of severe work, raw grain of excellent quality is unquestioned more sustaining than boiled food. When hard (that is, uncooked) corn forms the ordinary ration, a night feed two or three times a week of steamed grain, associated with bran, is an exceedingly good and agreeable change.

At periods of the year when the demands upon team labor are moderate, the practice of steaming the corn is better for the animals, and more economical. With a view to reducing the stimulative qualities of the keep, for horses doing only half the work or less, the practice is especially good. A bushel of grain thus prepared will go as far in rendering the chop palatable as three times the quantity given raw.

For young horses during the periods of dentition, as well as for old horses having defective teeth or weakened digestive powers, boiled corn is much preferable. Damaged grain of all kinds, if used, should invariably be subjected to the cooking process, and all steamed foods consumed before fermentation is set up.

The process of steaming ought to be applied only to whole grain and should not reduce it to pulp—horses dislike ‘slops.’ Many people assert that the addition of salt renders steamed food more palatable. I am not able to confirm or to contradict this statement, but I prefer that horses should be permitted to take or refuse the mineral by their being supplied with a lump of rock salt in the hayracks or mangers.

The advantage of cutting into chop all the straw and a great proportion of the hay allowance as a prevention of waste is now universally admitted, whilst the admixture of chop with corn necessitates complete mastication of both; for horses doing slow work, and their hours of rest consequently reduced, the benefits of the practice are increased.

Chopped hay of excellent quality requires no further preparation; but for inferior hay, and especially if it be moldy, the process of steaming for fifteen or twenty minutes, though it does not improve the nutritive quality, renders it much more palatable, and destroys many of its noxious properties.

All roots should be scrupulously cleansed from grit and dirt; the adherence of small stones may cause irreparable injury to the teeth during mastication. If steamed or boiled before use, the process should not be carried too far, for when hard and crisp in the center they are more highly relished.

When a mixture of grains, each having different properties, is given with chopped hay or straw, it is necessary that some trouble be taken to ensure complete mingling of the ingredients, in order that each horse may receive a ration of average quality.

To attain this object, a large ‘ mixing-tub ‘ is essential; the component parts of the feed being arranged in alternate layers can be easily and satisfactorily mixed by means of a light ‘ provender spade.’ The most convenient form for the tub is an oblong; its capacity should be at least one-third greater than the bulk of provender it is intended to mix at one time; and it should be lined throughout with sheet iron, as wood absorbs moisture from the mass, and becomes by long use so offensively sour, that no scalding nor scouring will remove the taint.

Frequency of Feeding

The anatomical structure of the digestive organs, and the physiology of digestion in the equine species, demonstrate necessity for a frequent supply of food and water. An observance of regularity and frequency in feeding conduces to health, condition, and economy by furnishing aliment at periods suited to the requirements of the digestive functions; whilst long fasts, followed by an inordinate supply of food, overtax the powers and impair the functions of digestion.

Having regard to the above-named essentials, the use of a ‘nose-bag’ must be considered as an important appendage for horses when the nature of their labor prevents their being fed sufficiently often from a manger. As a horse cannot feed from a ‘ nosebag ‘ without losing some portion of his ration, it is better to supply for this special purpose a provender of diminished nutritive value, reserving the greater part of the corn allowance to be eaten in the stable.

After the nose- bag has been removed, and before a horse is yoked for a ‘ dead ‘ or heavy pull, the carter should ascertain that no food remains in the horse’s mouth, for under those conditions the food may be intercepted in its passage to the stomach, and dangerous choking ensue. This is an accident to which canal-boat horses are especially liable.


The aphorism of ‘a constitution like a horse’ is in no way more forcibly exemplified than in noting what filthy liquid he can drink with seeming impunity. Ponds defiled by urine and dung of cattle, and teeming with organic impurities of every kind, are frequently the only sources whence a horse can obtain his allowance of water.

Outbreaks of fatal disease are frequently the only occasions when the drinking-water is suspected of possessing injurious properties; no consideration is given to what prejudicial effects it may produce upon the maintenance of physical vigor and powers of digestion.

For an animal so sensitive to cleanliness and sweetness as the horse, an abundant supply of wholesome water is quite as essential as good food. Troughs should be kept in a condition of scrupulous cleanliness, and the water frequently changed.

As a rule, farm horses are not sufficiently often supplied with water. There should be no stint of it in regard to quantity, except when the bodies are much heated, or after prolonged abstinence; a little food, and a few mouthfuls of chilled drink at short intervals, upon such occasions should be given before the horse is allowed to completely assuage his thirst.

I am entirely opposed to the practice of allowing horses to drink from the cattle-troughs provided for the purpose by many urban authorities, being persuaded that many outbreaks of contagious disease are due to infection thus contracted. Public drinking-reservoirs should not be tolerated, unless the risk of disease being communicated from one animal to another through their agency is reduced, by maintaining in them a plentiful and constantly running water supply and providing a suitable overflow.

In any case it is safer to allot to each carter a bucket wherewith he may be able to obtain the requirement for his horses from ‘ stand-pipes,’ erected in convenient situations.

When horses are severely worked, and arrive at their stables hot and fatigued, an allowance of 1 lb. of oatmeal made into gruel, and given just warm, is of greater benefit than 3 lb. of corn in the daily ration. It relieves thirst, and imparts to the stomach tone, for the efficient digestion of solid food.

The Breeding and Management of Draft Horses

Best Wishes

See Next: Section IV. —On General Management Stables

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