A lush, green pasture is an important part of a horse’s nutritional program. The healthier your grass is the more vitamins and nutrients your horse will gain from eating it. Plus, vigorously growing grass will be able to compete better against weeds and survive periods of stress caused by weather, insects, and diseases. Short, overgrazed pasture grasses are usually high in sugar and low in fiber; a combination that can lead to metabolic disturbances. In addition, overgrazed pastures develop bare spots that contribute to soil erosion, and weakened plants will be replaced by weeds and potentially toxic species.
In most areas, pastures can be maintained with little management. A good rule of thumb is to put two to four acres per horse to prevent overgrazing. Although, this isn’t always an option so good pasture management is necessary if you have to overstock your pastures. Use these tips to keep your pastures healthy and nutritious for your horse.
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Apply lime and fertilizer based on soil tests.
Soil nutrient levels and pH (the measure of the acidity of the soil) are extremely variable from farm to farm. Soil analysis can tell you the specific nutrients your soil lacks. It can also tell you if lime needs to be applied to bring the soil pH to 6 or 7, which is best for forage plants. Consult your local Cooperative Extension office or analytical laboratory for soil test kits. They can give directions on how to collect a sample.
Mow at regular intervals.
Mowing promotes tillering (growth of new offshoots) of the grass, which leads to a dense, leafy stand. This helps prevent the proliferation of weeds. If your pasture is mostly fine-bladed, short-grass species, such as perennial ryegrass and bluegrass, keep it around three inches. Maintain a slightly higher level of three to five inches if your pasture is composed of taller species like orchard grass or timothy.
Encouraging grass growth and mowing may be enough to control weed growth. If, however, weeds continue to be a problem, an herbicide application may be appropriate. For best results, choose an herbicide effective against the specific species in your pasture. Be sure to apply it at the right time of year. When using these products, follow all label directions and restrictions.
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Renovate with reseeding.
When renovating pastures, it is important to select the correct forage
species. Always match the forage species to your site conditions, management level, and the stocking rate of your pastures. To ensure quality, buy seed from a reputable dealer and choose seed mixtures formulated for horse pastures.
Rest your pastures.
Repeated close grazing depletes energy reserves, reduces growth, and will eventually kill a grass plant. This is especially true during adverse growing periods, such as a drought. A simple two-paddock system will improve pasture productivity. Put one cross fence across the pasture and rotate the horses between the two areas. Turn animals out on the pasture when the grass is six to eight inches tall. Allow them to graze it down to three or four inches. The development of a system with more than two paddocks will provide more improvements in pasture performance.
The information in this article is provided by:
Cooperative Extension and Outreach,