Effective management can make horses and farmers happy by doubling forage production. Photo courtesy Deb Balliet.

Sound pasture management makes good sense for the bottom line of any farm or ranch. Effective management can double total forage production, making for happier, healthier horses and lower costs for farmers and ranchers.

Well-managed pastures provide ground cover, prevent soil erosion, and decrease barnyard runoff. They require minimal pesticides and fertilizers, making them lower-impact than other crop covers. Healthy pastures also provide habitat for a range of birds and wildlife.

Pasture management strategies are simple plans for protecting and maintaining the health of a field.

A strategy should address these eight issues:

  • Fertilizing and Liming: Over time, plants draw nutrients out of soil. Fertilizing and liming restore the nutrient balance of the soil to support healthy pasture growth. Apply fertilizer and lime to meet nutrient deficits identified by soil testing. Apply fertilizer annually and lime every three years.
  • Control Grazing: Manage pasture usage to maintain at least 70 percent grass cover. Below are management guidelines based on the size of pasture and hours of grazing by a single horse:
    • 0.5 acre for 3 hours of grazing
    • 1 acre for 3 to 8 hours of grazing
    • 1.5 acres for 8 to 12 hours of grazing
    • 2 or more acres for unlimited grazing
  • Groom the Field: Keeping grasses trimmed will ensure that new growth is tender, nutritious and appetizing for horses. Cutting off over grown and dead tops will lower fire risk and increase the longevity of your pastures.
  • Introduce New Seed: Adding new seed to pastures is important to maintaining the health and stability of your grasses. Check with your soil conservation district or agricultural extension office to get recommendations on the best grasses to plant for your pasture and region.
  • Drag it Out: Dragging your field will break up and distribute manure, ensuring a healthier pasture by distributing the nutrients manure piles and encouraging even grazing. Breaking up manure piles also destroys eggs and larvae from parasites, preventing other, costly issues inside the barn.
  • Air it Out: Regular usage compacts soil. Unpacking the soil through aerating it will give your grass a better chance to grow and thrive.
  • Weed it Out: Your local agricultural extension office can help you determine a cost-effective, horse-friendly strategy for managing weeds in your pastures.
  • Protect the Your Special Places: Integrate sensitive areas into your management plan. Many communities offer financial assistance for safeguarding these important areas.

A little time and a bit of consultation will go a long way to creating an effective pasture management strategy. Find your local Extension Office here or here for details on pasture management in your area.