Is the grass greener on the other side of the fence? If you are interested in improving your pastures to be greener on your side of the fence, pasture management is the recommended practice for you.
Pasture management is recommended to all horse owners to help improve pastures, provide adequate nutrition to your horse year-round, maximize your forage yield, minimize supplemental feed costs, save you money, minimize weeds from emerging, minimize erosion, and maintain root structure to help grass uptake nutrients.
These practices can be implemented on your operation to improve your pastures.
Start with the soil! Work with your Livestock Extension Agent to come take a soil sample and grass sample of your pasture. The soil sample can help determine the nutrient content and pH balance of your pastures. Knowing these values will help maintain a productive pasture for your horse year-round. Apply fertilizer and lime based on your soil sample results.
The definition of a stocking rate is the amount of land needed to provide adequate nutrition for your horse and to maintain a healthy pasture. Having the correct stocking rate for your forage variety is important to make sure your pastures are not overgrazed. If your stocking rate is too high for the amount of land you have this can create decreased forge, allowing weeds to emerge, and increase the amount of money needed to buy supplement feed for your horse.
Grazing management is a valuable practice to help improve and maintain a nice pasture all year. Horse owners have several options when it comes to deciding what grazing management is the best for their horse operation.
Continuous grazing– allowing your horse to graze the same pasture the entire season or year.
- Cons of continuous grazing: no rest for your pasture, allowing your horse to eat in the same areas continuously, and over stocked pastures could turn into dirt quickly
- Pros of continuous grazing: fewer management decisions and fewer input costs.
Rotational grazing – dividing pasture into two or more smaller pastures that are grazed in sequential order. Pastures need rest too! Rotational grazing is the best option for improving pastures and allowing grass to restore energy reserves required for growth. If pastures are not rested and are continuously overgrazed, it will reduce the plant growth and eventually kill the plant. Plants and weeds are always competing for nutrition. Once the plant is removed then weeds will emerge in your pasture. Grazing height is an important factor when determining when to rotate to the next pasture. When the grass reaches an average height of 6-8 inches horses can be placed onto the pasture to graze. Remove horses and rest the pasture once the grass has reached a grazing height of 3-4 inches.
- Cons of rotational grazing: Increase management decisions, input cost to provide additional fencing.
- Pros of rotational grazing: Improves pasture longevity, more timely utilization of forage, more uniform distribution of fecal material.
Limited turnout time- turning horse out to pasture for a limited time during the day (1-12 hours). This is ideal for horses managed on small acres with more horses than their pasture can support. If you do not have a barn to provide limited turnout a planned animal concentration area can be used. A planned animal concentration area is also know as a dry lot, exercise arena or heavy use area that is used to remove horses from the pasture to recover from grazing and allow new plant regrowth.
Horses are selective grazers, meaning they keep going back to their favorite places in the pasture to eat. Mowing will help prevent select areas from being overgrazed and allowed for a more uniform pasture height.
Planned Animal Concentration Areas:
During hot dry weather when grass is stressed and growth is limited during the winter months pasture access may need to be restricted. A planned animal concentration area have little to no vegetation and are used to confine animals to allow pastures to rest. Planned animal concentration area is also know as dry lot, barnyard, sacrifice lots, exercise paddock, and heavy use areas. This area should be located on high ground and away from water bodies such as streams and ponds to prevent runoff of manure.
For more information on pasture management or to schedule a soil sample, please contact your Livestock Extension Agent.