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What is Equine Pasture Management?

KD Morgan
KD Morgan

Pasture management for your horse is one of the most cost-effective strategies you can adopt. Healthy pastures can save you time and worry. A minimum of two acres per horse is ideal.

Different regions dictate their own recommendations for healthy pastures. In general, a compliment of Kentucky bluegrass, timothy, clover and alfalfa are an ideal combination. While the clover and alfalfa are legumes and rich in protein, the fibrous bluegrass and timothy will help balance out the richness.

Alfalfa can be included in a pasture.
Alfalfa can be included in a pasture.

If given enough space, horses will use their instincts for their own pasture management. They will graze the rich areas of the pasture and defecate and urinate in the rough, weeded areas. This natural behavior controls the parasite population in wild horses.

Pasture management should include manure pick-up. This should be done daily or at the very least, weekly. If you choose to drag your pastures with a harrow instead, those areas need to be closed off for a minimum of a week to ten days, longer if the weather is cooler. It is wise to separate your pastures into sections and rotate your horses accordingly.

Ideal pasture management provides about two acres per horse.
Ideal pasture management provides about two acres per horse.

Each season brings different concerns and guidelines for your pasture management as well as your turnout. As a general rule, very early morning and evening grasses will be higher in sugars. Grasses that have been subjected to frost are likely to cause gastro-intestinal upsets. This is especially important to keep in mind if you have a horse that is prone to laminitis.

Fall’s failing pastures can inspire your horse to sample plants he would normally resist. This puts him at risk for plant poisoning. Some plants are at their most toxic levels during this time of year, such as horsenettle, white snakeroot and the toxic fungus that can infest ryegrass. You will want to check with your local extension office for a list of poisonous plants in your area.

New spring grasses are very rich in carbohydrates and should be balanced by supplementing with plain grass hay. Grasses respond to cold by increasing their levels of simple sugars and storage carbohydrates. This helps protect the plant cells from freezing but is hard on your horse’s digestive system.

One of the most important times for your pasture management is after the last spring frost. This is a time to clean your pastures from the winter months. Remove any remaining manure, add a thin layer of compost to areas that seem deficient, and rest your pastures for approximately 6 weeks during the spring rainy season. This allows your pastures to regenerate and it also protects the footing of your ground.

During this pasture-resting period, most find it beneficial to have some small sacrificial areas for your horse’s turn out. Because of the high carbohydrate count of your spring grasses, it is advisable to do a first cutting prior to reintroducing your horses to their pastures. This is especially true if you have sensitive horses with delicate digestions.

Once you become familiar with the concepts of pasture management, the routines will naturally blend with the dictates of the seasons. With the rising demand for farmland and increasing crop prices; hay and pastures are becoming scarce. This factor in itself is an important reason to take your pasture management seriously and protect your horse’s future.

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    • Alfalfa can be included in a pasture.
      By: Sea Wave
      Alfalfa can be included in a pasture.
    • Ideal pasture management provides about two acres per horse.
      By: Eric Isselée
      Ideal pasture management provides about two acres per horse.