This is the time of year when our pastures begin to green-up. In an earlier blog/post, I discussed some ways to minimize digestive issues when re-introducing or introducing horses to pasture.
If you are fortunately enough to have pasture for your horses, there are some tips to help keep the pastures thriving.
- Soil test. Most agronomists suggest soil testing pastures every 2-3 years. Sample the soil to a depth of about 3”-4” in 15-20 areas (cores). Having up to date soil analysis will help determine what type and the amount of fertilizer you need to add to the pasture; in turn helping you to save money on things not needed, e.g. lime. The numbers on the front of a bag of fertilizer refer to the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N, P, K) in the bag. A bag with 10-10-10 would contain 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 10% potassium. If the type of plants in the pasture are known, the report may suggest the amount of each of these nutrients to use. There is one caveat to this, most cases the soil test might not tell you a N application rate for pasture but for hay fields. Using a hay field rate of N might give you more grass than needed and all you do is mow. In many cases adding N in the fall is better use of your N dollars. Limited N application on some warm season grasses is recommended to get that Bermuda grass growing. Apply what N you need to produce the grass your horses can use.
- As stated above, knowing the type of grass species in the pasture is important. Different grasses have different grazing heights. Maintain a minimum of 3”-4” height for cool season grasses and 6”-8” for warm season grasses. Average for the pasture as some areas will be grazed to 2 inches some to 4 inches so on average you are a 3 and time to move the horses. They are not going to eat the taller grass but stay in the short area till they damage that forage stand.
- Know the weeds in your area. Preventing weeds is critical to having a quality pasture in addition to keeping horses from toxic weeds. Take a walk thru the pasture, write down which and how many weeds are growing. Decide how best to control or eliminate the weeds and begin early in the growing season. Controlling weeds when they are young is much easier than when they are old. This also reduces the amount of seeds to re-infect the pasture.
- Consider using a mower (brush-hog) to help keep the weeds down. This will also help keep the grasses in a vegetative (growing) state. As the plants mature, they enter a reproductive phase where nutrients are used for seed production. Mowing can reduce “grazing patterns”, increasing total grazing area. Need to mow before the weeds are ready to set seed or your time is wasted. Some weeds tend to proliferate when mowed making the problem worse, again, know your plant species in the pasture.
- LET the grass recover. Horses are tough on pasture. They walk on “dinner plates” compacting the soil. Horses have upper and lower incisors which allows them to graze (eat) plants down to the ground much lower than cattle. It may be important to have a sacrifice area where the horses can be kept until the pasture recovers or have other pastures they can graze. During periods of very wet weather, where the ground is soaked, moving the horses to the sacrifice area will keep them from pulling up the entire plant as they graze. As with looking for weeds mentioned above, do a weekly survey of the grass. Note grazing patterns, weed infestation, grass height, etc.
Maintaining a quality pasture will benefit the horse in various ways: mentally and physically while helping you save a little money.
I want to thank Bob Coleman, Ph.D., PAS, Dipl ACAS for additional information for this article.