The land is lush at present … horses are turned out and delighting in feasting on their pasture, but it’s not all grass and helpful herbs! There are a multitude of plants to chow down on. Have you closely explored your field to see what your horses are eating? Could you improve their summer environment?
Good pasture management is crucial to promote a healthy, happy horse. We all know, for instance, that Ragwort is bad news, but what else do we need to be aware of when it comes to grazing ….
FACTS AND STATS
According to the British Horse Society (BHS) nearly half of horses in the UK are turned out 24/7 grazing during the summer months. These grazers are eating up to four percent of their body weight in grass every day, although research suggests they only need two percent. Of course this means many are eating way too much and are in danger of becoming overweight, with all the attendant negative consequences.
If your horses are out permanently at present its recommended they need between 1 and 1.5 acres of good pasture each (two horses per hectare) to keep them happy, but this is dependent on the quality of the pasture. Too crowded and you may end up with fighting and bullying, not to mention health issues.
Horses are selective in their grazing and don’t eat everything that’s on offer. If their space is limited they will quickly denude it of what’s good, leaving only the bad and bare patches. Pasture can become over-grazed and without good management you’ll end up having to supplement their feed because the pasture becomes what is known as ‘horse sick’
As well as eating all the nutritious grasses in their field they roll, frequent specific areas, and generally degrade the pasture available. It’s fine if you have enough land to rotate them to different fields, but if you don’t you’ll end up investing in feed and supplements.
Horses grazing on degraded pasture might suffer from colic, greasy heel, parasites and weed poisoning.
TIP: Horses digest highly mature, stemmy forage poorly.
CHECK THE SOIL
It’s definitely worth having the soil in your pasture professionally analysed. If the soil is deficient in nutrients the grass will be of poor quality. You need it to contain essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, and if it doesn’t you can correct this with fertilizer. PH levels are important …. the perfect PH for horse pastures is between five and 6.5 PH to promote rich grass growth.
You can balance this by applying lime or seaweed if the PH is too acidic.
TIP: Soil should be checked at least every three years.
You can renovate bare areas with grass seed by fencing off the high traffic and denuded areas, usually along fences and beside gates, until new grass seed is established.
Fill any depressions with top soil and harrow or scarify the soil before sowing seed under a thin layer of composted manure. Keep the soil moist, and even mulch with straw.
TIP: Horses like to graze in straight lines, so divide your pasture into long field strips using temporary fences.
Identifying the weeds in your pasture is necessary to controlling them, because they might need specialised treatment with herbicides and a particular time in their life cycle to be killed off.
Mow/cut weeds down regularly before they go to seed, and continue to fertilise and lime the field … ultimately the preferred vegetation will prevail.
IF YOU NEED HELP WITH OPTIMISING YOUR PASTURE, DON’T HESITATE TO CONSULT US HERE AT TOTALLY TACK! GOOD QUALITY PASTURE CAN BE A RICH SOURCE OF NUTRIENTS, AND SHOULD BE THE FOUNDATION OF YOUR HAPPY HORSE’S FEEDING SCHEDULE.