Pasture Maintenance

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There is little attention given to the health and maintenance of the pastures for our horses. However, farm owners must realize two principles.  The first is a natural ebb and flow of plant growth and horse health cycles.  The second is that the pasture plants are alive, like you and your horses.  These plants need as much attention to their health as your horses because the soil and microbes within the soil required for plant life will die without it.

Yes, the dirt has a unique microbiome like the intestinal tract in us and our horses.  While we carry our soil around within our digestive tract, stationary plants establish roots in the surrounding soil filled with the needed microbes. Likewise, our intestinal microvilli are similar to the roots in animals.

Dormancy occurs in the non-growing season (winter) in temperate climates.  In dormancy, the plant stops producing glucose through photosynthesis. The result is low starch stored in the areas where the horse can get to it making cellulose the dominant portion of dormant plants. Low starch is perfect for helping the horse shed the excess body fat without losing muscle.  The starch returns in spring and summer to provide starch for body fat development before the following winter.

Most horse owners do not have enough pasture to support the number of horses on the farm.  Overcrowding leads to pasture destruction by creating dirt lots and the need to supplement required energy with hay.  A hundred years ago, every farm had enough pastures to support the horses, but as time has marched on, horses now are primarily recreational.  In addition, hay has become abundant and ubiquitous, and the price of land is too high for most to purchase more than a few acres. More evident to me is the absence of young horse owners to understand this change and its effect on horses’ health—more on this in the nutrition section. But the continuous feeding of last summer’s grass (hay) throughout the winter is the primary cause of illness and unsoundness in horses today.

I drive through the country where horses are unrestricted to small dirt lots, standard in suburban areas but not rural land.  These horses look healthy in the depth of winter with enough body cover to maintain themselves until the spring grass.

My point to this under the topic of pasture maintenance is that it becomes critical to understand the ebb and flow principle of horses eating when you are limited in pasture space.  With this in mind, it is essential to maintain the pasture in the best possible way.  Pasture maintenance includes the prevention of overcrowding, finding winter pasture to rent or lease to give the farm pasture a rest, proper analysis of dirt and supplementing the pasture with the food it needs to survive the horses.  Find an expert in pasture maintenance and follow their directions.

Rocks can be a significant nuisance in some areas of the country. Their removal is a constant job, especially after the winter frost heaves hundreds of rocks through the well-worn muddy areas.  These can injure a galloping horse.

The frozen ground makes deep hoof holes from the previous day’s mud and is a common cause of broken legs in horses.  Ice has also claimed lives.  A good ground cover of plants will help to avoid these situations.

Controlling the length of the grass through cutting or grazing is a balance between the season and the number of horses grazing.  Fertilizing with minerals should be done with the help of soil testing through a local agriculture agent. Finally, seeding and reseeding pastures need to be orchestrated with pasture rotation, so the horses don’t disturb the new growth as well as the growth cycle of the plant.

That is all I have here.  Just some thoughts, but if you need more information about pasture care, you need to find a specialist, preferably with horse experience.

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