Horsezone News

Pasture Management Tips

Published on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 in General

From the October 2014 issue of The Stable Magazine – www.thestablemagazine.com/october2014

Managing paddocks is a tricky business. Not only are certain factors unpredictable, but there are also many different factors that contribute to the health of your pastures. The health of your horse literally starts from the ground up - with the health of his paddock. 

Good pasture management means ensuring your pasture is the best quality possible.

How you manage your pastures - be it a two acre paddock, or hundred hectare property - will depend on the climate of the area, your soil type, the use of the land, land slope, the number of horses, and a million other influencing factors that you might have to consider. General management practices however, can be generally applied to any pasture.

Just some of the factors that should be looked into when managing pastures include the soil quality, type of pasture, management of weeds, stock levels, grazing management, seasonal issues, manure management, and maintenance of structures on the property, such as shelters, fences and troughs, just to name a few! By following a few simple guidelines and having good management practices in place, you can save both time and money - and have horses who thrive on healthy pastures.

The health of your horse really does start from the ground up - and in general, the better health your pastures are in, the less you will have to spend on feed and supplements for your horse. Working to improve pastures takes time - and is a process that is on-going. Certain improvements need to be done according to climate, seasonal changes and rainfall, and it can take some time before the pasture is ideal. On top of this, weather and the elements make the job even more difficult. This is why it is important that all other aspects that you can control are addressed - and you can make the most out of your paddocks, and keep them in good condition year round, simply by being aware of existing problems, and implementing a program to manage them.

Researching your local area is a great place to start, and information is now available simply by searching on the internet. You can even look up details on your local area, including weather and rainfall information, which can assist you in making choices as to the type of pasture you have, and when to control weeds. If you need further advice, including guidelines of weed control in your local area, ask your council - they will generally be able to provide you with all of the information you’ll need.

Soil types & quality

The health of your pasture begins with the condition of your soil. If your soil does not contain enough nutrients to allow good growth of the pasture, then your horse definitely won’t be reaping the benefit from the grazing that is available. Soil needs to contain nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulphur - and it needs to be at a good pH level. Soil also needs to contain specific trace elements in order to achieve maximum pasture growth. It is recommended that a soil test be done on your paddocks at least once every four or five years. Over time, grazing removes the nutrients from the soil, and the running of certain animals, along with the choice of pasture type can alter the pH of the soil. A soil test can not only advise you as to the pH level of your soil, but it can also give you readings of the levels of minerals in the soil. Based on the readings, you can then fertilise your soil accordingly. There is no point just adding fertiliser, or fertilising your soil every year unless you know what your soil is lacking in, and are specifically trying to adjust the balance of nutrients in your soil. Growing legumes, such as lucerne or clover actually raises the levels of nitrogen in soil, so when it comes time to fertilise, you may find that you only need to boost levels of phosphorus, for example. Growing legumes can also make soil more acidic over time, so the pH of your soil may need to be neutralised with lime. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, while anything below 7 is acidic. Readings of above 7 indicate an alkaline soil. Soil tests can be arranged through various companies, and are worthwhile. Testing soil before you fertilise can save you time and money, and can help you to avoid pastures that are too acidic for good pasture growth.

Pasture Types

You may already have an established pasture that requires a boost - or you might be renovating and need to re-sow. In any case, choosing the right pasture mix has a huge impact on the health of your paddocks. There are different kinds of pasture mixes available, and a range of different grasses you can sow on your paddocks. Making the right pasture choice could be the difference between year round grazing, and having to buy in large quantities of hay and feed, so choosing a pasture mix that is appropriate for your paddocks is essential. Again, your choice of grass will be dependent on many factors, including climate, rainfall, soil type, and the kinds of animals you will be running. Some grasses are annuals, and will grow well year round. Other types of grasses will fair better in certain times of year. Some grasses thrive in clay soils, others require well draining soils in order to achieve optimum growth. You need to choose a grass (or combination of grasses) that will grow well in your area, and provide grazing year round. Before you ask for a bag of ‘Pasture mix’ - ask what is in it, research the different kinds of grasses, and make an informed choice.

Seasonal Management

As the seasons change, so too will your pasture. How effectively you manage your paddocks will have a direct impact on how they fare throughout each season. Ideally, you have sown a pasture mix that allows growth of one species of grass or another all year round. You have ensured that your soil is at its optimum pH, and contains all nutrients vital to pasture growth. The next step is to look at how your paddocks fare under extreme conditions, and to see if improvement is necessary in management of livestock, so you can maintain healthy and flourishing pastures.

Extreme heat and drought conditions can have a severe effect on paddocks, particularly if there is little or no ground coverage of grasses. Exposed soil can increase the chances of erosion, and little rainfall can mean that it is quite difficult to re-establish healthy pasture in areas that no longer have good ground coverage. Do not over graze areas in summer, and opt for hardier grasses that are more drought tolerant if necessary.

There are many problems associated with wet weather. Rain is necessary for optimum growth, but too much rain, or too many horses can lead to ruined pastures. High traffic areas are also likely to turn to one large swampy mess, and so management alternatives must be arranged to avoid these problems. Decreasing the volume of horses on the property can stop paddocks from becoming mud pits, although realistically, no paddock will ever be mud free, and often mud surrounding troughs, shelters, and gateways cannot be avoided. If possible, make traffic alternatives to avoid one area from bearing all of the traffic. If this is not possible and the area is flooded longterm, accept that this area will not be useful grazing land. Once an area has been waterlogged, often the soil is no longer aerated sufficiently, and it can be difficult to level out the area after a long winter. Generally, waterlogging occurs when paddocks are too small, or on low lying ground where flooding regularly occurs. In some cases, it might be easier and a better solution to avoid using these paddocks after heavy rainfall and when waterlogging occurs.

Overgrazing & Overstocking

Keeping too many horses on one property or in one area is known as ‘overstocking’. Overstocking dramatically impairs the growth of healthy pasture. Horses not only graze down paddocks very low to the ground, but they also cause damage to soil with their hooves. The higher the number of horses in one paddock, the higher the level of damage will be.

Overgrazing is when horses are left in one paddock for an extended period of time, until the paddock is depleted. The end result is generally the same as overstocking, leaving the paddock in a state of disrepair. In both cases, re-establishing pasture can be very difficult, and depending on the condition of the paddock, it may have to be re-sown, rested, and/or fertilised. The generally accepted ‘standard’ stocking rate is one horse per acre. If your property is in need of pasture improvement, and you only have a small amount of grazing, the stocking rate could be even less - one horse per two acres.

Grazing Management

There are different ways to actually manage the grazing of a property - or even the grazing of a paddock. You can implement grazing techniques even if you agist your horse in a paddock that you are able to manage yourself. The two main types or methods of grazing are rotational grazing and strip grazing. ROTATIONAL GRAZING involves moving horses from one paddock into a fresh paddock once the grazing has been eaten down, allowing the old paddock to rest and regrow, while the horses eat down the new paddock. Rotational grazing is a very popular method where there is enough free room to rest a large area for a lengthy period. Typically, paddocks are rested for at least six months at a time, and which also ties in with the worm and parasite control program of a property. STRIP GRAZING is where a part of a paddock is sectioned off using temporary fencing, while the horse has access to a small part of the paddock at a time. Once one ‘strip’ is grazed, the horse is moved on to the next, and so on. Generally one or both of these methods are employed to allow horses access to fresh pasture as often as possible, although on very large properties this type of management may not be necessary provided parasites and worms can be effectively controlled.

Cross Grazing

Cross grazing serves many purposes. Grazing sheep, goats and cattle on your property after horses have been removed from a paddock in a rotational grazing system can be extremely beneficial, provided you have the room for your cross grazers. Sheep and goats are less selective than horses, and will eat weeds that horses will not. This keeps the weeds from overtaking the grass after it has been grazed down. Cross grazing with different animals also helps to control worms and parasites around the paddocks, as worms are generally linked to one species of animal. Introducing new animal species into a paddock following the horses will often break worm life cycles.

Manure Management

Every horse property needs to have an effective manure management program for many reasons, including hygiene, cleanliness, pasture health and worm control. Manure can be removed from paddocks, or can be harrowed and spread, depending on the size of the property. Although popular with gardeners, manure is not popular around the stable! Good management practices dictate that manure should be picked up around stables, yards and small areas daily. Ideally, a paddock should have the manure removed from it once a week - but this all depends on the size of the area you are managing. If the area you are managing is small, pick up the manure as often as possible. If this is not an option, you can either harrow or spread the manure around. Spreading manure out from clumps exposes worm larvae to the sunlight, which will kill them. Harrowing should be done in warm weather to ensure as much worm larvae as possible is killed. In order to help break the worm life cycle, cross grazing can be used, as mentioned above, as well as implementing a worming and rotation program. Horses should change paddocks 48 hours after being wormed and should be put into a clean manure free pasture. Egg counts on manure can be a great indication of how effective your worm management program is. Leaving manure on pastures after it is harrowed and well spread can actually fertilise the soil and does put nutrients back into pastures, but care must be taken as to when this is done. Ideally, manure should be collected and can be sold to gardeners, or placed in a muck heap. If you do get rid of the manure from a property, you will need to ensure that your soil does contain enough nutrients for healthy pasture growth, as you are removing some of these nutrients when you remove the manure.

Leaving manure in clumps can cause problems. It allows worm larvae to grow in an ideal environment, and will also encourage uneven paddock growth. Often, horses will not graze where manure has been, even if grass growth is good. If you don’t have the time or resources in order to pick up your manure in your paddocks, at very least harrow them on a regular basis - and always insist that manure be removed from stables, yards and smaller paddocks. Your pasture and horses with thank you!

Thank you to The Stable Magazine for this article, which was originally published in their October 2014 issue. Check out The Stable Magazine online now for FREE. Read this article and many more at www.thestablemagazine.com


Be the first to comment on this article
You must be logged in to place comments