Pasture Management

There are two different approaches to the whole subject of pasture management depending on what sort of horses you own.

 

If you just want the quiet ride at the weekend and safe ponies for your children then you will do things somewhat differently from someone who has performance and/or breeding horses.

 

In either case: NEVER apply commercial fertilisers:
no super, no potash, no NPK, no urea, they will all cause the grass to be even more unsuitable for your horses.

Sufficient nitrogen for grass growth can come from occasionally (but not frequently!) harrowing manure.

 

Originally, we thought it was just a case of getting rid of unsuitable grasses and clover (mainly rye/clover) and re-sowing with more horse friendly grasses. While this is still a big step in the right direction growing horse friendly grass is not just a case of sowing horse friendly grasses.

Equally important is the stage of growth of this grass.
(See Aspects of Pasture and also Resowing Pasture)

Recreational Riding Horses

Should You Change Your Grasses?

If your property has been part of a dairy farm in the past or the pasture consists of solid rye-grass and clover - Yes.

After evaluating the grass situation and making the appropriate changes it is best to let it grow to a good length, at least 10” or more.

The more mature the grass the ‘stalkier’ it is. This means it is higher in fibre relative to soluble sugars and the more minerally balanced (less potassium, more magnesium).

However grass can get over-mature too.

The composition of the cell walls (bricks and mortar) of the plant determine fibre quality. Cell walls are made up of hemi-cellulose, cellulose and lignin. Over-mature grass has a high lignin content and since lignin is indigestible there is very little nutrition in it - not a bad thing for obese horses!

Stop your horse eating...

  • fresh spring growth. It has a comparatively high water content (which exacerbates the lack of sodium), is lower in magnesium, and is higher in potassium and nitrogen. 
     

  • New green shoots that pop up after a dry spell (usually autumn). These can be particularly dangerous being chocka full of potassium and nitrogen.
     

  • Rye-grass (Perrennial) and Paspalum seed-heads. They can be laden with pathogenic fungi (endophytes and ergots) which produce myco-toxins potentially very harmful to your horse
     

Control access to grass:

  • In spring when you want to grow hay. Your horse(s) can have zero access and live 100% of the time in their Dry Lot on hay while your grass grows.
     

  • At times when your grass is green and prolific then you may only allow access for 10mins morning and night.
     

  • After the hay is taken off and the grass has dried off you may allow access for more hours of the day or night as you see fit.
     

  • In late summer - especially when there are long dry spells they may be able to go on the grass full time.
     

Feeding GrazeEzy will help your horse cope with the grass for more of the time.

 

The challenge is to know how much to feed on any given day because requirements will vary with the changes in the weather.

You will get to know what suits your horse on your grass and work out a routine to fit your daily schedule.

What About Strip Grazing?

 

This works for some people on some properties so long as you can ‘back-fence’.

Points to Remember:

  • horse(s) will scoff the fresh bit in the first hour or two then spend the rest of the day nibbling on the re-growth which can cause problems. You could try putting hay out for them to eat too.
     

  • With strip grazing the grass is eaten down pretty short and then takes a long time to recover. Back fencing helps as the grass they ate yesterday can immediately start growing again.
     

  • You can’t have too many horses grazing the same strip as the back fence means it is a narrow space
     

  • Your electrics need to be working well

IMG_0748.jpg

Zephyr and Marshall Art in their winter grazing - note the grass is very mature and brown despite the wet year. This grass had not been grazed for a couple of years and has never been fertilised (perfect!).

Zephyr and merlot on perfect summer grass

Over-Grazing

The shorter the grass is grazed, the longer it takes to recover and grow again. In fact over-grazing actually wrecks the grass. It is a very common scenario on horse properties because there isn’t sufficient land available to rest paddocks for long enough. When grass gets too short there isn’t enough leaf area to produce the nutrients to sustain the plant and they become stunted and more susceptible to damage by hooves. Bare patches also appear especially where horses ‘hang out’ and erosion starts.

Rented Grazing

 

This can prove to be a difficult situation if your horse develops problems because you cannot control grass intake...
 

Things you can do to help:

  • Make sure your horse gets some hay every day even if you have to leave him in a tape pen to make sure he gets it
     

  • This is particularly important when they are moved onto a fresh paddock. Keep a close eye on his manure.
     

  • Feed all the ‘goodies’ to help balance electrolytes:  salt to provide sodium and chloride, AlleviateC to provide organic calcium and magnesium, GrazeEzy to help neutralise the potassium/nitrogen spikes in the grass with changes in the weather or season, and Premium NZ Horse Minerals or Supreme Vits and Mins (for Australian horses)for everything else including selenium.
    The idea is to cover all bases to help prevent problems at various times of the year rather than trying to fix them.

     

  • Feeding all the goodies will at least minimise the problems and even prevent many. However if your horse has a chronic problem like being prone to laminitis, or head-flicking, or respiratory problems then you may have to look for alternative grazing where there are yards you can use as ‘dry lots’ during times when the grass is unsuitable for your horse.
     

  • Have the owner or manager of the property study this website so they understand where you are coming from. Hopefully then they then may at least spray out the clover and weeds and even more importantly they will not fertilise with commercial fertilisers!

What about “Jenny Craig” paddocks?

Eeeek!!! These are an absolute ‘No-No’!
 

  • If you aren’t feeding any hay and your horse is confined to such a paddock, it means your horse’s diet is 100% tiny grass tips which, as you have now learned are very unbalanced mineral-wise and therefore totally unsuitable horse feed.
     

  • These tiny grass tips, especially in spring and autumn are likely to actually cause a laminitic attack
     

  • Jenny Craig paddocks are ‘starvation’ paddocks and if that is all your horse or pony has to eat then you are in effect starving them of essential nutrition.
     

  • They do nothing to help ‘metabolic’ or cresty, laminitis prone horses and ponies, in fact they make them worse.
     

Instead you need an area with no grass (See Dry Lot Options ) and a good supply of hay. Then you will see the metabolic symptoms disappear, you won’t have any more episodes of laminitis or sore feet. You will be able to enjoy your horse and
pony as you should.

BEFORE you Renovate your Pastures:

Willi from Pastoral Improvements tells us she is experiencing a surge in enquiries for ‘Horse-Friendly’ grass mixes.
 

This is great but if you are considering it then thoroughly digest the following points because re-sowing paddocks is a lengthy and expensive process, and is not always as straight-forward as it sounds. Best go in with eyes open!
 

  1. Check what is already in your paddocks - you may not need to re-sow after all. On inspection many people are pleasantly surprised to find they already have a mix of suitable grass species in their paddocks and the only action required is to eliminate the broadleaf plants – any clovers, plantain, cat’s ear and/or capeweed in Australia. 
    Once the competition from broadleaf plants is removed, more grasses will grow in their place from seeds already in the ground.
     

  2. Early spring is the right time to be doing this, just as the undesirable plants are starting to grow and so that any hay taken off will be clover/plantain free.
     

  3. Clovers especially are a hazard to your horse’s health and absolutely interfere with various aspects of reproduction.
     

  4. If you have ‘fertile’ land, particularly if it has been a dairy farm or has been commercially fertilised or regularly limed in the past, the old- fashioned grass species (eg brown-top/crested dog’s-tail/poas) will not like the soil environment and will be difficult to establish because they prefer more acidic soils. You will need to talk to your Seed Supplier and possibly modify your mix to suit.
     

  5. Just because the new species of grasses are potentially more horse-friendly on paper – remember that ANY grass or plant, when it is at an immature, green ‘stage of growth’ will cause ‘grass-affected’ issues in horses so access still needs to be managed with this in mind.
     

  6. Resist all efforts to talk you into 'Low or Zero Endophyte' rye-grasses, endophytes are only one of the reasons rye-grass isn't suitable for the equine species.
     

  7. Don't be tempted to include small amounts of plants like plantain or chicory! Plantain seeds for instance are miniscule and even with low inclusion rates you will be sowing MILLIONS of seeds.
    Plantain and chicory are not grasses and they 'take over' under certain conditions.
     

  8. FIRMLY refuse any ideas of fertilising the new grass (to give it a boost) especially with NPK (Nitrogen Phosphorous Potassium) as these can ruin your grass for grazing by horses for many years.
     

  9. Sowing grass for horses is not about achieving maximum yield.
     

  10. Understand that BRAND NEW grass is EXTREMELY POTENT in potassium and nitrogen and therefore needs TIME BEFORE horses can be permitted to graze it. Where possible take a cut of hay off the new sward, then WAIT until the new grass has yellowed/dried off before allowing access.
     

  11. This means you need to think about where/how to keep your horses while the new grass establishes. Depending on weather and season and when you started the process, it can be anywhere from 6-18 months before the new grass is safe to allow grazing access by horses.
     

  12. If in NZ, contact Willi at Pastoral Improvements.
    She has a great understanding of suitable equine mixes. Pastoral Improvements send seed mixes for equine properties all over NZ: willi@pastoralimprovements.co.nz