A major component of a horse's diet is hay or grass. Grass is the natural feed for horses, reduces the cost of feeding, provides a horse with exercise, and horses are usually healthier when kept outside on grass. Establishing and maintaining a productive pasture is not too difficult. A horse weighing 1000 pounds will eat about 500 pounds each month. Two acres of grassy paddock are recommended per mature horse. One acre of grass can provide adequate grazing but requires more grass management with soil testing, fertilizing, and controlling manure. A horse will not eat trampled grass or grass with manure on it. Horses will quickly overgraze smaller areas. Horses tend to overgraze, which weakens and kills edible plants and allows non palatable weeds to take hold. Allowing the pasture to recover for 3 or 4 weeks helps the grass stay productive.




Outline of action plan


The grazing area should be divided into three or more equal size portions. Portable electric fencing provides an efficient and economic way to organise compartments. To allow for regrowth, about 1/3 of the grass uneaten should be available at any given time. The procedure is to graze one area down to 2 to 3 inches, then move the horses to the next compartment. When the grass has re-grown to 6-8 inches it is ready for grazing again.

While the grass recuperates, it should be mowed, so that all plants are at an equal height. Mowing is also important to maintain grass productivity. It minimizes the spread of weeds to help maintain a higher quality forage. Mowing weeds before seedheads are produced limits the spread of weeds. Grass should be mowed to 3-4 inches. Mowing keeps the grass shorter, which horses prefer. The grass has less fibre, is higher in protein and more nutrients reside in the younger leaves and stems.

Rolling the pasture helps to firm roots that have been loosened or exposed by hooves. Harrowing helps to uncover and destroy parasitic eggs and larvae by being exposing them to the sun. Dragging enables water and air to better penetrate the soil.

No matter how well you manage your sward it will most likely become dominated by non-grasses. To help ensure it continues to produce good grass, new quality forage seed should be spread every year. It is recommended re-seeding be done in the Spring or Autumn. In the Spring, wet conditions allow for germination and growth, but only if it is not too muddy. In the Autumn, there will be less weed competition. Do not allow grazing on new grass seedlings for approximately 6-weeks after they have emerged.

Action plan


Vision/objective

A uniform green paddock dominated by grass growing to an average height of 5cm. with few droppings, no bare patches and no ragwort or thistles.

Factors and rationale behind actions

....Soil pH. Optimum pH for grass growth is 6.5

........Actions: Soil test to establish pH and apply lime if necessary

....Soil nutrients. Nutrients are removed as a result of grazing or topping and removal of cut grass.

........Actions: Soil test- important to only add the correct amount of nutrients on ‘little and often’ basis,

....Poaching. Damages grass roots

........Actions : Roll

....Dead grass. Thatch is an excessive thatch layer on the soil surface (more than 1 inch) which can restrict the movement of air, water, fertilizer and other materials to the roots

........Actions: Harrow

....Grass height. Not only is grass more able to make it’s own nutrients if it is kept at this length, but it is also better able to withstand the actions of hooves. Grazing on excess lush grass causes equine laminitis is when the laminae, the soft tissues around the hoof become inflamed.

........Actions: Top cut grass

.....Grazing pressure. Overgrazed paddocks do not look good; they increase the risk of parasitic worms building up; soil particles are more likely to be ingested with grass, weeds which would otherwise not be eaten are more likely to be browsed upon and health problems such as mud fever become more likely.

........Actions: Rotate grazing

....Droppings. Manure detracts from the look of the paddock, animals do not graze evenly and can pick up harmful parasites that are excreted in their manure.

........Actions: Remove droppings

....Supplementary feeding . This leads to bare, poached areas where weeds will ingress

........Actions: Do not feed in one place

....Poisonous and inedible weeds. Weeds such as ragwort are obviously poisonous and must be removed, ideally by hand pulling and burning. Other invasive plants that are considered weeds are those plants which horses and ponies will not eat like docks, thistles and nettles.

........Actions: Hand pulling of docks, thistles and ragwort.

....Drainage. Poor drainage causes puddling after rain, reduces soil aeration and encourages the growth of non-grass speces such as Silverweed.

........Actions: Lay drains


Scheduled actions


Time of year
Action
Late Winter
Soil test to establish pH and other nutrient levels
Early Spring
Harrow pasture Roll pasture Be aware of too much grass
Late Spring/Early Summer
Apply nitrogen, phosphates or potash fertilisers where necessary
Keep grass length to 5cm (2-3”) Target invasive weeds such as docks and ragwort
Summer
Continue with mowing to keep grass length to 5cm
Autumn
Continue with mowing Be aware of ‘autumn flush’ of grass growth
Winter
Rotate paddocks
Throughout year
Pick up droppings as often as possible
Grass will continue to grow whenever the soil temperature is above 6°