No matter where you live, the fundamentals of successful pasture management are universal. Follow these tips to establish healthier grazing for your horses.
- Always test the pasture soil before initial seeding or re-seeding. This is as simple as digging up soil samples approximately 8 to 10 inches deep from several areas of your pasture, combining them, and taking the mix to a local soil conservation office or county extension agent. This step is one of the most important keys to success because determining the fertility of the soil is the only way to know which nutrients to add for maximized growing. If you don’t do this, it’s like throwing an expensive dart into an invisible dartboard!
- Keep the pasture mowed or allow it to be grazed very close to the soil to create space between plants for the fertilizer and seed you apply to filter to the ground.
- Add lime and fertilizer to improve soil nutrients as indicated by the soil test and repeat later when plants need them. Don’t assume that more is better. Fertilizer runoff is an environmental pollutant, and over-fertilizing is also a waste of money.
- Use seeds that thrive in your growing zone. Typically, you can rely on local farm supply stores and co-ops to stock pasture seed that grows well in your area.
- Try to use seeding methods that disturb the ground the least. No-till drilling, where seed is deposited into the soil by machine, is effective and will not release dormant weed seeds. Seeding when the ground is covered with spring snow or frost also yields good results.
- Eliminate as many weeds as possible either by manual, mechanical or chemical means. Since many have taproots that are too deep to completely remove, mow to reduce weed growth before they go to seed.
- Pick up manure in small paddocks or spread it in large pastures to kill existent parasites. Only spread during hot, windy, sunny days to thoroughly kill the worm population. Afterward, always keep horses off the pasture for a sufficient time to prevent re-infestation-at least two weeks in humid climates, less in very arid regions.
- Limit the time horses can graze on small pastures. Moving horses from the pasture to a dry corral has two major advantages: your pasture will grow much better and your horses will be less prone to obesity. (Most horses left to graze freely without exercise become obese, an increasingly prevalent problem veterinarians are concerned about.)
LOUANN CHAUDIER and her husband recently sold their Restless Spirit Farm and now reside with their cats and dog on three acres in a state forest.
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!