What is pasture management?
Grass/pasture management is defined as the practice of growing healthy grass and related plants to profitably sustain forage availability and livestock production while ensuring ecological health. (www.nagrasslands.org)
What is the importance of pasture management?
Pasture management is necessary to maintain the health of your fields/pastures, because like humans and animals, your pasture needs rest! Every pasture needs time to rest so the root systems can grow that delicious grass. This lengthens the life of the grass and in the long run will be less maintenance between seasons. Try not to overstock the fields, this can stress out the grass, increase the chances of overgrazing patterns and allow weeds to overtake the field(s).
How should I properly start a pasture management program?
To start, you should always test your soil. This will tell you what your grass will be lacking in nutrients that your horse will be consuming. Then, fertilize accordingly. You should also take pasture samples to know exactly what your horse(s) is consuming, because knowing is better than guessing. Here, at Southern States, we offer hay and pasture analysis. If that is something you are interested in, please see our contact information below and we’d be happy to help you.
Tidbit: If you overstock the fields, according to the University of Kentucky, applying additional nitrogen to your fields can regrow the grass faster, if the correct amount of nitrogen is applied. Too much, may be harmful to your herd. Please consult one of our agronomists before application.
However many acres your farm has, there isn’t a set number of sections the land must be split into. Typically, a good pattern to use, again depending on the number of horses and size of your farm, 3-4 pastures or sections of one large pasture, with one dedicated to a rest period or a sacrificial pasture. Utilizing a sacrificial pasture, one where there are no animals grazing, will help with your rotation pattern and allow the grass to fully rest in between grazing sessions.
If you have multiple pastures to graze your horses in and a sacrificial lot, utilizing a mowing and dragging schedule will be much easier. After a grazing period is complete, it is proper practice to mow and drag the field to activate the regrowth process to ensure the grass comes back healthy and ready for the next grazing period.
Do I need a lot of acreage to do pasture management properly?
The quick answer, is no. Utilizing what is available for your farm, you can create sections with electric fence tape and increasing the frequency of rotation or grazing sessions. For instance, if you have two 3-acre pastures for 3 horses (this is using the guidelines set by the University of Minnesota) and want to incorporate pasture rotation into your management plan. You can utilize electric fence tape to section off a small portion of each pasture, moving the tape across the pasture every few days or up to a week. This allows a section of the pasture to rest and forces your horses to eat from a portion of the pasture they might not usually graze from.
How do I know how long each grazing session should be?
If you are aiming for the gold standard in pasture management, you should only graze your horses in a field if the grass is 6-8 inches high. A quick judgement is to take a standard water bottle or soda pop bottle and place it in the field. If the grass is shorter, then the grass isn’t tall enough. This is also a good rule of thumb in spring time when deciding the right time to put your horses out to pasture.
Rules of thumb
- Rotation, Rest & Regrowth.
- Test your soil & pasture.
- Don’t overstock the pasture.
- 6-8 inches is just the right height.
Equine Nutrition Sales Specialist
Southern States Loudon County Coop – Purcellville, VA