Spring Pasture Care & Maintenance – Part 3
Although I have already gone over my plans for pasture care, I thought I would pass on some additional tips for pasture care as outlined by The Farm Clinic and Roger Allman, with a few notes of my own to address some questions I have received. It is important to realize that every field is unique and that treatments required will vary. Factors such as geographic location, species composition, the number of horses per acre, and the quality of the land can affect the intensity of management that a field requires.
It is extremely important that fields are mowed regularly and at the correct height. We like to see fields cut in the six- to eight-inch range. Mowing actually increases the amount of forage available to the horses. Grass that is cut frequently puts more energy into thickening and spreading, rather than growing length and producing seed. Horses also prefer eating shorter grass, which is more tender and lower in fiber. Cutting grass too short, however, will cause the soil to dry out too quickly in warm weather and will limit the amount of grass available in the winter when the grass stops growing. Mowing is also the best method of weed control. Regular mowing will help remove the seed heads of weeds before they are fully mature and able to produce new plants the following year.
Liming and Fertilizing
The application of the correct amounts of lime and fertilizer will encourage the growth of healthy grasses. The horses will also receive a more balanced diet from the grass when the correct amendments are applied.
Seeding is most important in fields that are heavily grazed and fields with low percentage of palatable grasses. In fields under heavy use, Bluegrass, rye grass, and other desirable species may be grazed hard enough to kill some of the plants. Seeding is also very important in high-traffic areas, such as gates and corners, where hoof damage causes loss of grass. These areas are also very prone to erosion when they are left bare.
Resting fields, even for as small as a period as two weeks when the grass is rapidly growing, can be very beneficial in keeping the sod thick and low in weeds. If rotation is not possible, spreading a thin layer of muck in the most heavily grazed areas will promote more uniform grazing. Horses prefer short grass, and unless encouraged to move elsewhere, will continue to gaze the areas that they have already eaten down.
Spreading straw muck is a way of increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil. Organic matter allows the soil to retain moisture during dry spells. Caution should be taken not to spread muck too thick as that could smoother and kill grass. To eliminate the unsightliness of spread muck on a field and to assure parasites and weed seeds are not introduced into your fields, composting is the best method. A future blog will go into more detail on the methods and benefits of composting.
Chain harrowing loosens dead grass and spreads manure piles. The frequency of chain harrowing is usually dictated by stocking rates and the amount of droppings. For lightly grazed pastures, once or twice per year should be adequate. Running a chain harrow before and after broadcasting seed will improve the contact between the seeds and the soil. However, chain harrowing during dry weather causes the fields to dry out faster. Fields that are heavy in the weedy grass Nimblewill should not be harrowed during September or October, as this spreads the weed seed.
Spike-type aerators are effective in encouraging root growth and reducing compaction. Running the aerator prior to liming or fertilizing will help prevent run-off on hillsides and will help apply the amendments directly to the root zone.
Feel free to send your questions to me at Ron@EquineManagement.com and I’ll try to address them in future blogs.