Basic Pasture Management for the Equine Owner: Tips for Maintaining Healthy, Productive Pastures
As an equine owner, proper pasture management leads to high-quality, productive pastures that can supply excellent nutrition for your horses. However, pasture management can be challenging due to continuously changing environmental conditions and fluctuations in horse populations residing on the farm. Adopting good pasture management practices is increasingly important as stocking density or number of horses per acre increases. In most areas, pastures can be maintained with very little management at densities of 2–4 acres per horse. At higher animal densities, good management practices are necessary to maintain plant canopy cover and desirable plants. Without adequate pasture acreage, horse owners will need to limit turnout time to prevent overgrazing and supplement with hay to help meet equine nutritional requirements. The management practices outlined in this blog post can be adopted to help maintain healthy, productive pastures that benefit the horses, the farm, and the environment.
Test Your Soil – Proper fertilization is imperative to maintaining high-quality forage in pastures. Soil nutrient levels and pH are extremely variable from farm to farm. Therefore, it is important to accurately determine the nutrients and pH of the soil by performing a soil analysis. To obtain soil test kits and receive directions on how to collect a soil sample, contact your local extension office or an analytical laboratory. After submitting the sample, the results will indicate the nutrients and pH level of your soil. Once you know the nutrients and pH level, you can adjust them accordingly to promote healthy plant growth.
Rotate Pastures – Horses are selective grazers and will often overgraze certain areas, leading to soil erosion and weed invasion. Rotating pastures, or dividing them into smaller sections, will increase the longevity of your pastures by allowing them to rest and recover. By rotating pastures, you can reduce the risk of overgrazing, and encourage a more even distribution of manure and nutrients, which leads to a healthier pasture.
Manage Grazing Time – As mentioned earlier, overcrowding can put a lot of pressure on your pastures and lead to overgrazing. You can avoid this by managing the grazing time of your horses and either limiting their turnout or dividing the pasture into smaller sections. A good rule of thumb is to graze no more than half of a pasture at a time, with a rest period of at least 30 days before grazing again. By following a grazing schedule, you can help your pastures grow back more quickly and maintain a healthy plant canopy cover.
Control Weeds – Weeds can quickly take over a pasture and become a nuisance to your horses and the environment. Some weeds can be toxic to horses, while others can reduce the nutritional quality of the forage. To control weeds in your pasture, you can either spot-treat them with herbicides or use manual control methods, such as mowing or hand-pulling. However, it’s important to note that even organic herbicides can have a detrimental impact on your pasture if overused. The best way to control weeds effectively is to practice good pasture management and prevent them from becoming established in the first place.
Proper Irrigation – Adequate water supply is important for the growth and health of your pasture. However, overwatering can lead to soil erosion, nutrient leaching, and breathing problems for your horses. You can prevent this by employing best practices in irrigation and maintain proper soil moisture conditions. You might want to consider installing an irrigation system that is designed specifically to meet the needs of your pastures, soil type, and climate. Alternatively, you can monitor and water your pastures manually, as needed.
Maintaining healthy, productive pastures is essential to providing nutritious forage for your horses and ensuring the environmental sustainability of your farm. By incorporating the right pasture management practices, including regularly testing the soil, rotating pastures, managing grazing time, controlling weeds, and practicing proper irrigation techniques, equine owners can ensure their pastures remain productive and healthy. Implementing these practices helps prevent overgrazing, soil erosion, nutrient loss, and weed invasion, ensuring the continued growth of healthy, productive pastures for your horses to graze on.
At Strides Home, in Gibbon Glade, PA, we help you find your dream horse. We’ve worked through the challenges already ourselves when we first learned about how to care for horses and then bought our first horses. Our Trails Home program is an easy and fun program that helps match you up with the right equine and then gets you prepared with the basics of what you need to know to take it home and enjoy!
Finleigh and Irelynn