Q7) What is pasture management?
A pasture provides food and room for a horse to
exercise. It should have adequate plant growth for forage and shelter from
weather elements. There should be access to water and salt. It should be
free of holes, obstacles or other objects that would cause injury.
Pastures can greatly reduce the cost of feed, reduce the amount of stall
cleaning and add enjoyment to the horse's life. Horses were designed to
live outside, roaming, playing and eating at will.
Pasture development and management requires knowledge
about many aspects of land management, soil management, crop growth,
fertilizers, irrigation, weed control, planting and harvesting. Unless
you are confident that you have the knowledge to deal with all of these
consult your local agricultural extension agent for advice.
Keeping horses on pastures that are already established is a
different subject. This discussion will represent a general
overview. Horse owners can turn out their horses "in the
pasture" while never giving a second thought about how to optimize the land
use or what will benefit the horses. There are a few general guidelines to
keep in mind if you maintain pastures for your horses.
Horses can do a significant amount of damage to a
pasture. Their hooves are very damaging to the land, digging up tender
roots and young shoots that would replace the plants they have eaten. If
the pasture is overgrazed, it will turn into a mud or dirt field. The
horses will paw at the ground searching for something to eat. They will defecate
in an area and will not eat any food in that area, thereby eliminating a certain
amount of the pasture from their food source. If the horse-to-pasture
size ratio is incorrect, the pasture will be used up in short order.
The best time to put horses out to a pasture is when the plant
growth is between 4-6 inches. This gives the plant roots a chance to get
firmly grounded. The pasture has to be closely monitored; when 50% of the
plant growth is gone, move the horses off the pasture. The pasture should
be allowed to rest for at least four weeks.
The concept of rotational grazing is important to the horse's health
and optimum pasture output. If the horses overgraze the pasture and the
plants can not rejuvenate, the pasture will be useless. Ideally, the
pasture should be just large enough so that the horses put on it will consume
all of the forage produced in about 10-14 days. Horses eat the plants that
are most palatable to them first, leaving mature or distasteful plants last or
they may not even eat these at all. These factors combine to cause
increased weeds in overgrazed areas and wasted forage in the undergrazed areas.
To correct patchy grazing, mow the weeds and the wasted forage and spread the
manure that has accumulated in spots.
The general rule of thumb is that a pasture may hold two horses
per acre per month. There are factors that must be taken into
consideration for your specific pasture situation such as weather, types of
pasture plants and your horses' grazing behaviors.
The important aspect of pasture management is that the pasture
manager be observant and knowledgeable about grazing horses.