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Evaluating glucose and insulin levels in grazing horses

Quick facts

  • Teff has lower nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) and higher fiber values compared to cool-season grass and alfalfa.
  • When grazed by horses, blood insulin levels were lower for horses grazing teff compared to cool-season grasses in the fall and late fall.
  • As a result, the lower NSC and higher fiber values of teff could help decrease the insulin response of horses grazing in the fall and late fall.
Horses grazing teff.
Horses grazing teff

Forage is a primary part of the horse’s diet and is often fed in the form of cool-season grasses (e.g. orchardgrass), legumes (e.g. alfalfa) or warm-season grasses (e.g. teff). These forage types differ widely in their nutritional content. Two main differences are the NSC content and fiber. Teff usually has a lower NSC content than cool-season grasses and a higher fiber content than cool-season grasses and legumes.

A lower NSC content and higher fiber values can be beneficial for overweight horses or those diagnosed with conditions such as Cushing’s Disease, insulin resistance or laminitis. These values are important as they may contribute to a lower glucose and insulin response in horses.

The goal of our research was to explore the nutrient values of the forages, including NSC and fiber, and their effects on horses.

Horse grazing cool-season grass
Horse grazing cool-season grass

Testing forage, blood glucose and insulin 

  • Six aged horses were grazed on cool-season grass (Kentucky bluegrass and orchardgrass mixture), legume (alfalfa) and warm-season grass (teff) pastures.
  • Horses grazed alfalfa and cool-season grass in the spring, all three forages in the summer and fall, and cool-season grass and teff in the late fall.
  • During each season, forage and blood samples were taken before turning out the horses and again two, four, six, and eight hours following turnout.
  • In addition, the nutrient content of each forage and the glucose and insulin levels in the blood samples were determined.



Michelle DeBoer, former Ph.D. student, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences; Marcia Hathaway, professor of Animal Science, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences; Craig Sheaffer, professor of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences; Kerry Kuhle, DVM; Krishona Martinson, equine Extension specialist and Patty Weber, Michigan State University

Reviewed in 2018

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