Building a productive pasture is a great way to ensure healthy and happy horses. We’re here to help break down the ins and outs of designing your perfect pasture.
Planning your pasture is an important first step, there are lots of things to consider and research to conduct before beginning work.
One of the biggest environmental concerns to plan around is how you will be using your land. Grazing patterns can help you optimize the land you have, while maintaining high integrity of your land. You may have heard of rotational grazing before, it is a great way to ensure that your field does not become over-grazed. Allowing the land time to recuperate while using another section guarantees sustainable accessibility to grasses. Luckily, moving horses around can be as simple as splitting a larger pasture in half.
Another important factor to consider is what pasture grasses you plan on making available to your horses. If you plan on planting your pasture don’t forget to prepare the field, plowing is a great way to eliminate competition for the species that you are introducing. Choosing an appropriate forage plant(s) for your horses will depend largely on the climate in which your pasture is located, do your research! Some of the most common options include:
- Kentucky bluegrass
- Smooth bromegrass
- Reed canarygrass
- Tall fescue
- Perennial ryegrass
- Ladino clover
- Red clover
- Birdsfoot trefoil
It’s pretty hard to maintain a healthy pasture if your soil does not contain sufficient nutrients or a healthy pH level. Soil test pastures every 2 – 3 years in order to ensure adequate nutrient levels for grass growth. Soil samples can be sent out for testing at a local extension office to get fertilizer advice based on your land’s deficiencies.
The size of your horse pasture depends on land available, but more importantly on the number of horses that will be grazing in that area. The general rule is that you should allocate 2 to 3 acres per mature horse. Remember that areas with varying weather patterns, high weed presence, and poor soil quality may need more space to accommodate for the difficult growing conditions.
Gate Placement and Fencing
Gate placement may seem like a fickle thing to focus on, but planning it out in advance can help you avoid problems down the line. Gates should not be placed in corners and they should be large enough to get heavy equipment through. If your gate is too narrow you could potentially risk injuring your horses if more than one passes through at a time. Lastly, place gates on slightly higher ground. A low area gate will likely mean large water puddles that can damage your pasture.
Choosing the right fencing for your pasture is essential to ensuring safe grazing in a confined space. A perimeter fence should be a minimum of 5ft tall, which will deter horses from jumping over even in the instance of being spooked. Options include plank fences, high-tensile polymer, rubber, mesh wire, etc. Remember to avoid things like barbed wire that could potentially cause harm to your horses.
Paddocks are a great way to maintain the environmental integrity of a pasture. By having a place to manage your horses when the pasture is too wet or dry, you ensure a safer and healthier pasture space for your animals. In order to create the most optimal paddock for your horses you need to consider what paddock footing you will use. Paddock footing aids in managing mud and manure while ensuring a comfortable walking service for your horses. GeoCell and arena footing are great options with high quality drainage and long lasting foundational support for paddocks and more.
Once you have planned out what your pasture will look like, it’s time to get to work!
Preparing your Pasture
If you’re starting with a fresh piece of land, there are a few steps to complete before you can get to planting. Plowing your plot of land is essential to eliminating plant competition while preparing the soil for seeding. Additionally, soil tests should be taken as soon as possible to ensure ample time for fertilization and lime. Lime should be added to your soil 6 months prior to seeding if it is deemed necessary.
Sort out where you plan to place your fence line and gates. If you plan to build a paddock, think about when to begin excavation and location. Heavy-use areas, or Paddocks, should be located 100 feet away from any streams, wetlands, or ponds. Excavation is an important first step before continuing with adding your base layer and footing, such as Foam Footing or GeoCell.
Seeding your field
Timing your pasture seeding can play a huge role in the suggestion of pasture plants. It is recommended to plant in the late summer, as seedlings often do better compared to planting in the spring. You may also find that you encounter fewer weed problems. Early weed growth could ruin your pasture. Herbicides and weed clipping can help manage the population. If you choose to use herbicides, always read the instructions carefully and wear personal protective equipment. County Extension Agricultural Agents have information about herbicides specific to your region.
Remember to establish a rotational grazing pattern for optimal use of your land. While it might be tempting to get your horses right out to pasture, do not allow grazing to begin until there are 8 to 9 inches of growth. Young plants are easily damaged by trampling or simply by being pulled out during grazing. Allowing plants to establish some roots will keep your pasture much healthier in the long run.
Remember that good pastures require adequate and frequent maintenance. Pasture management includes seeding, grazing systems, fertilizing, soil testing, fence repairs and so much more. By staying on top of maintenance you can ensure that your horses are getting the best pasture experience, keeping them healthy and happy.
Solutions for Easy Pasture Management
At Performance Footing we provide the products you need for establishing and maintaining your paddocks or pastures with ease. Give us a call today at 877-835-0878 to discuss how we can support your pasture management efforts.