View Full Version : Working heavy horse question about feed

05-17-2016, 05:00 PM
So, I "know" a bit about horses but am not sure how accurate what I know is.
Also, folks on here kindly answered a bunch of questions I had a while back about teams of heavy horses and wagons and this is more to do with that. In my book, the wagon train is in motion along a road....... (which doesn't lead to Rome...:) )

I had a tiny bit of background, of the land being largely settled, so it is a road from market town to market town with all the land alongside the road belonging to someone and being farmed. Some of those someones rent roadside grazing and barns for travellers to stay overnight. This includes grazing for the horses. Depending on who it is, this could be occasional, or a large chunk of their income.

From general knowledge-ish I "know" that horse pastures should be less lush than say milk cow pastures, that horses can get laminitis from too lush grazing. So my questions are:

1. Is that correct on laminitis?
2. Anything else that can go wrong from lush grazing?
3. How lush?

3. is the most important to my story, in particular the sort of detail as

If horses are working hard on a daily basis, does lush grazing affect them as much as horses that are out to pasture?
If a lush cow pasture had been mostly cropped by the cows and the horses get the left overs - which are still lush, but short - will that be as bad as turning them into ankle high lush grass?
If it is just for one night, does it matter that much?

05-17-2016, 06:00 PM
Horses will nip the grass almost flush with ground. Cattle less so because bovines don't have teeth in the upper jaw; only in the bottom jaw. So cattle can't bite the grass off and can't eat it as short as horses. Lush pastures such as Alfalfa are much too rich for a steady diet for either horses or cattle. Cattle are susceptible to bloat: caused by an overly rich diet.

Wagon trains of the westward migration depended on the grass along the trail for their animals:mostly oxen, so the travel must be timed with the grass growth.


05-17-2016, 06:18 PM
They are travelling in early summer in a good year, so no problem there. :)

General point - when I said "lush pasture" I was more thinking rich grass with some clover in. I have now googled the history of alfalfa/lucerne and am surprised by how early it was adopted - the Romans had it. So it could be around, but it isn't universal (wanders off to ponder.... nope, cancel ponder, write a different scene which doesn't involve grazing and come back to this later .... :) )

05-17-2016, 09:05 PM
If this is a civilized area, which is what it sounds like, we're dealing with a vary different scenario to wilderness. At certain intervals there would be inns. The inn would have a corral and maybe a small pasture for the overnight guests. Inns save a lot of time through not requiring setting up camp and cooking meals. The horses would be fed some grain or corn, and then let loose in corral or pasture. Hay would be provided instead of relying on graze. It's more predictable and you don't want the horses overeating, which can bring on bloat and tying-up.

The horses are going to be very tired. They're not going to be big into wandering about. Nor do the teamsters want their horses wasting energy wandering about all night.

Jim Clark-Dawe

05-17-2016, 09:08 PM
It also depends on the horses, although heavy draft horses ARE more prone to obesity than light horses.

But, if they are working all day, then they won't be at pasture as long, which is definitely a factor. The horses might also be stalled, depending on the inn, and provided with hay.

05-17-2016, 09:52 PM
Plus a lot of the issues we now see with things like laminitis are caused by artificially fertilised rye grass, which is what you typically get on intensively farmed cow pastures. From what I've read of your posts, you're talking long before artificial NPK fertilisers were used, so you won't get these very rich, leafy grasses which cause a lot of the problem. With the best will in the world the pasture will have a much more diverse, stalky sward. And that means it won't have nearly as much sugar etc easily available to the horses. Also, people think horses these days ridden for an hour are in 'hard' work, which is total nonsense. Yours will be working much harder, so less prone to issues.

05-17-2016, 10:11 PM
Ah ha. Yes, no NPK, the best available at the time would have been lime and manure.

And yes, I see that my original post did rather lack some important info. Talk about living inside my head......

Broadly 17th century northern European - but as a background for a fantasy, not historical fiction. Want the world to mesh properly - but can tweak a fraction here and there to suit the story (providing it is of course consistent, economically feasible etc... :D).

Hay - good point - but how much would be available in early summer?
Left overs from last year would be a bit past their sell-by. Or would they? I am aware of modern horses being fussy about the quality of their hay - would the same be true about a draft horse that has hauled all day?

05-17-2016, 10:41 PM
Horses (especially cobby breeds such as you're describing) aren't generally fussy about their hay (although my two sports horses rejected a bale of haylage recently which looked entirely fine to me - go figure), and in fact old hay is actively encouraged if you have a horse prone to lami. Horse owners on the other hand - terribly fussy about hay ;)

Basically you just want it to be not dusty or mouldy, so if it was cut and stacked/baled dry, and stored well, you're golden. We're feeding last year's hay this year, and we'll feed this year's hay next year. You don't generally want to feed hay the year it's cut - people obsess about how many months to leave it before feeding it to their precious equines! If you think about how the seasons go, you'll cut hay summer (and early autumn if the weather allows a second cut), bale it, use up the last of last year's hay to Christmas, then start on this year's hay next January-ish.

05-18-2016, 01:04 AM
Thanks. That sorts a lot out.

And on a slight change/expansion of topic. I've got them grooming the horses and cleaning the tack each evening. Described them as oiling the harness. Just realised I've not actually checked that. Vaguely aware of the existence of saddle soap, but that is as far as I go. So
Would you need to wash the leather first?
Does it have to be a special soap?
Or can you just brush off any mud and dried sweat and rub in oil?
Would it be neats foot oil (which I've used on boots in the past)?

05-18-2016, 02:24 AM
Hay would be kept in stacks out in the fields unless you've got lots of storage. No hay bales. Grain or corn would be the main calorie source, with the hay to fill the horse's stomach and time. Quality of the hay isn't very important and wasn't very understood back then anyway. Inns would go for grass hay because it's cheap. (You charge extra for grain or corn.)

Horses would be brushed and cleaned as soon as they arrive. Then walked to someplace where they could roll, then released into a corral or pasture or placed in a stall. Teamsters would then eat, then saddle soap the harness to clean it off. Oil would not be put on the harness on a daily basis. Final glance at the horses and then bed.

Waking up, horses would be given grain or corn, then tied. Horses would be brushed and a light cloth run over the harness. Harness would be placed on the horses ready to go, then the teamsters would grab a quick breakfast. Then horses would be led to the wagon and hitched up.

You'd go to about eleven to noon, then stop where the horses can get some graze. Give them a nose bag to start, then stake them out for a couple of hours. Lunch, then a brief nap. About two hours after starting, you hitch up again, and go to about four or five in the evening.

Rinse and repeat for however many days your trip takes. Sunday was frequently taken off, and gave people time to repair clothes and gear. Fifteen to twenty-five miles a day was a good distance, less during winter and mud season.

Jim Clark-Dawe

05-18-2016, 12:59 PM
Hay would be kept in stacks out in the fields unless you've got lots of storage. No hay bales.

Jim Clark-Dawe

Thanks, yes, hay stooks. I've always thought that farms must have had to make an awful lot of string before the advent of baler twine....... not something I've ever looked up, must do that. There is a book by Lilian Beckwith "A Rope in Case" about living as a crofter on the isle of Skye and how it was always good to have a piece of rope with you "in case". :)