Do not feed grass clippings to horses

One of my happy chores in spring is cutting grass. Finally it greens up, making our yard look alive and cutting it brings memories of summer rushing to my mind. It’s a happy, alive kind of feeling. Our horses feel it too, judging by the audience they give me when I’m cutting grass next to the pasture fence.

A sad lesson

I let the grass grow a little too long this time so I ended up with lots of grass clippings everywhere and I could tell the horses coveted the lush piles of freshly mowed fescue. It would have been so easy for me to scoop armfuls and throw it over the fence but I remembered an article Mikki found years ago that talked about the dangers of feeding horses cut grass. It mentioned the story of a woman who came home one day to find her horse had colicked and died as a result of eating grass a well-intentioned neighbor threw into her pasture. How sad for the neighbor and how devastating for the horse owner.

Why grass clippings are bad

But why is cut grass bad for horses? It doesn’t seem to make sense, since they eat mostly the same grass on the other side of the fence and the hay we feed is just cut and dried grasses. But even though the grass may technically be the same variety, it’s not the same as a fresh mouthful in your pasture or hay that’s been properly cured. The issues:

  • Grass from your lawn may contain fertilizers or anti-weed (herbicide) or anti-insect (pesticide) chemicals that should not be consumed by horses.
  • Recently cut grass doesn’t dry uniformly, leaving wet clumps that can ferment and grow mold and mildew. Microbes introduced this way can cause colic in horses. Unlike lawn clippings, hay grass is tetted and sometimes re-tetted (spread out evenly in a thin layer) and dried/cured in the field before baling.
  • A mouthful of small cuttings may be quickly consumed by a horse. The small, wet clumps can compact and stick in a horse throat. Hay or fresh grass is chewed in manageable amounts.
  • The horse digestive system works best with consistent feeding. It adapts well but not quickly (as in day-to-day). Sudden shifts can lead to digestive problems and laminitis.

There may be more reasons but that list is enough for me. I’ve read several comments from horse owners online who say they feed grass clippings to their horses all the time without negative results but I’ve also read several who experienced colic, laminitis and death. With all of the potential negatives, why risk it?

It wouldn’t hurt to kindly mention to neighbors that feeding anything outside of a horses regular diet could kill them. Some horse owners even put up signs on their fences, which seems like a good idea. Most of us can’t monitor our pastures all of the time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you had a bad experience with grass clippings and horses?

About Bill

Long-winded horse newbie, aspiring amateur barrel racer and cowboy mounted shooter. Bill has a "horse problem" and regularly wears a t-shirt that reminds him "I don't need another horse." A favorite quote is from John Wayne: "Courage is being scared but saddling up anyway," which pretty much describes how he feels every time he gets on a horse.
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9 Responses to Do not feed grass clippings to horses

  1. Also, if the clumps make it beyond the throat, they can still cause an impaction in the intestines leading to colic.

    You make a fantastic point – talk with your neighbors about what’s OK for your horses and what’s not. Our website is all about feeding and management tips like this one you’ve shared for avoiding colic. We have people write in and share their colic stories (both happy endings and sad), and one of the first ones was a teenage girl who lost her horse to colic when the neighbor fed him grass clippings over the fence. So sad!

  2. Bill says:

    Thanks for the note. I like your website and wish you the best in your effort. For those of you who didn’t notice the link, it’s http://www.coliccrusade.com/ – Crusade Against Equine Colic

  3. young mare says:

    Thanks for this article! My husband was just wondering about feeding our horses grass clippings. We are new horse owners, having just purchased a farm. We’ve had our mare and gelding for about 2 weeks now and are learning the ropes. I’m definitely going to be following your blog since we are going through teh same thing you went through in 2006.

  4. bela bircsak says:

    is it ok to give horses raw poteto skins from kitchen also rose petals,tender rose trimings,all weget,ables ,oranges, lemons, tomatos, what flowers are no no??? i know oleanders are no no !!! thank you for your input. bela bircsak,

  5. Me:D says:

    Interesting article! Thanks for sharing! My grandparents had neighbors with horses, and my grandpa would take his grass clippings and feed them to the horses as a snack. Eventually the owner had to tell him to stop, but no one really knew why they were bad for horses. I figured it had something to do with colic. Thanks! ^ ^

  6. Entity says:

    There is also the issue of potential contamination with motor oil or other lubricants from the mower. ( this is assuming, like most you mow with some form of petroleum driven mower, rather than being weird like myself and using a scythe )

  7. Bill says:

    Thanks for the notes everyone. Glad you found the information useful. Entity, I hadn’t thought about that. I think most people here do use a gas-powered mower of some kind. Bela, good questions. I’ll have to do some more research and maybe do a post with a list.

  8. Lori says:

    Hi Bill, thanks for this post. My husband and I are new minipony owners. We have completely lost our pasture and Bambi and Tucker are basically in a dry lot. We feed them extra hay, and I was going to feed them our lawn clippings. Thank you for the post. We are in the process of building a “relief” pasture so that we can get the main pasture seeded again. We live in SC and have been in drought for years- no matter how much we water, we cannot seem to save the grass. My question is, how long can they stay in the dry lot area? And, how much fescue in the field should they eat? I am getting conflicting reports via google. They share one bale of hay week.

    • Mikki says:

      Let me first say, we are by no means experts at this horse thing yet. The best advice I can give you is to ask your vet. He or she should have a feel for the hay available in your area, and would have a good idea about the nutritional content, and the needs of your horses. That being said…

      A horse can stay on a dry lot pretty much indefinitely. It’s not the best scenario, but there are horses in the Southwest, for instances, who may have never seen a grassy pasture in their entire lives. :-) So as long as their food needs are being properly provided for, they should be okay. As for how much hay they need, again, ask your vet – but the general guideline I’ve seen in several places is about a pound of hay a day per hundred pounds of body weight. So if your minis weight about 200 pounds, they’d get 2 pounds a day each.

      Hope this helps! And I hope you get your pasture up and running. We have the same struggle ourselves – for us, it’s that our pasture is on a slope and the erosion is killing us. Our horses, too, get most of their roughage from hay rather than grass.

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