The forage available to horses through pasture or range grazing is one of the most important sources of nutrition and fiber. Sound pasture management can mean better grass coverage, healthier horses, reduced soil loss and dust from erosion, increased infiltration of stormwater runoff, better uptake of fertilizers and reduced weed growth.
One of the best methods of improving pasture condition is the practice of rotational pasture grazing. Because horses are very selective grazers, eating some areas down to the ground while leaving other areas alone, removing horses from the pasture or range in question is critical to the re-establishment of a good grass cover. It is estimated that production of good forage on any given field or pasture can be effectively doubled through this practice. (UMN extension.)
Both temporary and permanent fencing are the basic tools of pasture rotation. If you have a large facility with well divided pastures or fields and not too many horses, this can be easily accomplished by simply moving the horses to another area. However, small facilities or those with larger horse numbers can accomplish this with the use of temporary lines of fencing. Existing pastures or paddocks can be divided and fences moved as grasses are grazed down.
Grasses should not be grazed down to less than two to four inches in any area of the pasture or field. At that point, several things should happen. First, remove the horses to another grazing area, or utilize a sacrifice lot for a period of time, feeding hay in the interim, if another field is not available. Then take steps to bring the grazed-down pasture back to health.
- Bring in other grazers such as cattle, goats or sheep to even out the vegetation if available.
- Mow to even out the existing grown and drag or remove manure as needed.
- Take soil samples to determine soil fertility and pH (soil acidity) after dragged manure has begun to break down.
- Aerate if needed to provide oxygen to roots and loosen up compacted soils.
- Reseed if needed.
- Check with your local extension agent for soil testing, recommended seed and application schedules for your region and soils.
The pattern that you use for rotational grazing on your farm or ranch will be dependent upon soil and environomental condition, size of pastures or fields, and types of forage vegetation prevalent in your area. Your extension agent or other pasture management expert can help you with this. From these factors you will determine how many pasture divisions you will need to achieve optimal growth.