Well managed, productive pastures can supply all the horse’s nutritional requirements, with supplementation only required when horses are in heavy work or where soil mineral deficiencies are present. The key to healthy productive pastures is effective management techniques. Three key areas are grazing control, manure management and weed management.
1. Grazing Control
The aim for all horse pastures is to maintain an even ground cover ranging between 5-12cm throughout the year.
When selecting pasture mixes, the main factors to consider include:
- rainfall distribution and reliability
- soil nutrient level
- soil pH
- soil physical characteristics
Your local Department of Primary Industries (DPI) officer and/or Agronomist can assist you in determining the soil type of your property and the appropriate pasture mixes to sow, as well as fertiliser requirements.
Effective grazing techniques can prevent pastures becoming horse sick, where pastures consist of lawns (closely cropped areas) and roughs (tall rank growth). Other effects of poor pasture management and continuous grazing of horses include soil erosion and compaction, and severe soil mineral imbalances.
Implementing a rotational grazing pasture management plan is an effective technique to achieve even and productive pasture growth.
Rotational Grazing is when grazing is followed by a period of rest. The rest period is usually determined by the pasture growth rate i.e. 2 weeks grazing, 6 weeks rest. This method can be very effective in reducing the rate at which a paddock becomes horse sick.
Strip Grazing is another effective management tool as it aids in overcoming selective grazing by minimising pasture available at any one time.
For both rotational and strip grazing, once the average pasture length is down to 5cm, the horse/s should be moved to a fresh grazing strip or paddock.
Cross or mixed grazing with either sheep or cattle assists in minimising selective grazing and horse sick pastures as cattle and horses will graze around each other’s manure. Cross grazing is also beneficial for soil nutrient levels due to the recycling of plant nutrients from the pasture, through the grazing animals and back into the soil. Cross grazing is also a helpful worm control technique.
Slashing or mowing of tall rough areas in a paddock can also allow pasture to regrow at an improved quality that is more palatable to horses.
2. Manure Management
Manure management is important in the prevention of horse sick pastures. The time it takes for pasture to become horse sick depends upon:
- pasture type
- stocking rate
- grazing management
- pasture management
- paddock dimensions
Manure collection is the best technique for managing manure, to be highly effective it must be picked up every day.
Pasture harrowing, another management technique where manure is spread evenly across a paddock to dry out parasite larvae, should only be done in hot weather after rainfall.
3. Weed Management
To minimise weed content in pastures, regular paddock inspections must occur. When weeds are evident they must be controlled quickly.
Horse owners should familiarise themselves with poisonous plants that grow in their region. If these plants are present on your property they should either be removed or alternatively exclude the horse’s access to the plants i.e. fencing off the area.
Weeds can be managed by spot spraying with the appropriate herbicide and/or hand hoeing. Sprinkling pasture seed in the resulting vacant areas and lightly raking to provide a seed bed will help to exclude any further weed growth.
Your local DPI officer can provide advice on weed identification and appropriate herbicides. Additionally comprehensive weed identification books are also available which provide a vital information resource.
Summary Points for Effective Pasture Management:
- Aim to have an even ground cover with dense, vigorous pasture ranging between 5-15cm
- Control grazing by rationing through frequent rotation of grazing areas to prevent uneven or over grazing
- Guide grazing with portable, electric fencing, and yards for spelling pastures from horses when required
- Manage manure as naturally as possible by rotational grazing, vigorous pastures and harrowing
- Crowd out weeds by growing healthy, vigorous, long living pastures
- Consult an agronomist to prepare a fertiliser plan to ensure adequate soil nutrient levels and vigorous pasture growth
Department of Primary Industries 136186, or http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au
- A. Avery, Small Farm: Pastures for Horses, Agricultural Notes, DPI, 2003
- A. Avery, Small Farm: Grazing Management for Horses, Agricultural Notes, DPI, 2003
- J. Kohnke et al, Feeding Horses in Australia — A Guide for Horse Owners & Managers, RIRDC, 1999
- A. Stubbs, Healthy Land, Healthy Horses — A Guidebook for Small Properties, RIRDC, 1998
Article courtesy of the Department of Primary Industries