March 13, 2020
Philipp: Healthy pastures translate into happy horses
By Mary Hightower
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Horses need two acres minimum for grazing
- Mower, harrow essential for good pasture management
- Be sure to test soil to ensure fertility
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Healthy pastures mean happier horses, said Dirk Philipp, associate professor-animal science, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
However, when owners try to make the pony-in-the-backyard scenario work, they may be unwittingly overstocking their pasture.
“Keeping horses on their own few acres is the dream of many,” he said. “However, the propensity to overstock available land is the result of unrealistic expectations for pasture health and management.”
Philipp said “We recommend no less than two acres of pasture per horse, and with barns and facilities included, no less than four acres total land area available per horse.”
Those acres require fairly intense management. Good forage starts with proper fertility and Philipp recommends soil testing, which can be done for no cost through the Cooperative Extension Service.
“Fertilize according to these tests, and specify prior use and location,” he said. “Soils around subdivision developments are usually highly disturbed and may be lacking certain nutrients.”
The next consideration is choice of forages. Philipp said perennials such as bermudagrass and bahiagrass are the forages of choice, especially when interseeded on occasion with winter annual forages. Don’t steer away from fescue either.
“Tall fescue gets a bad rap, but it is perfectly fine unless your mares are pregnant,” he said. “If plantings are newly established, go with non-toxic, novel endophyte tall fescue.”
Because horses graze very closely to the ground, they will ruin any pasture if overstocked. “However, tall fescue, bermudagrass and bahiagrass are relatively resistant to overgrazing,” Philipp said.
Hay and pastures
Hay and pastures don’t always mix, Philipp said, because hay may carry weeds that can intrude on pastures. “Do not feed purchased hay on any of your grazing paddocks, but instead only in designated hay feeding areas,” he said.
Philipp also recommends not making hay from pastures on which horses were grazed, in order to break parasite cycles. “After you make hay, you can stock horses but make sure to still rotate them to other paddocks to break pest cycles.”
While horses may graze closely, they don’t graze evenly, which means there’s mowing in the horse owner’s future.
“The number one purchase a horse owner can make for pasture maintenance is a mower,” he said. “Pastures should be trimmed to a 6- to 8-inch height. This keeps an even canopy height and helps with weed control.”
Philipp said a sickle bar mower is the best because of its ability to make clean cuts, but a bush hog can also do the job. He cautions against “mowing excessive amounts of biomass as those can create mats on the pasture and hamper regrowth.”
A harrowing experience
Harrowing also is an important management tactic.
“You should drag out the horse feces piles,” Philipp said. “This will ensure a somewhat more even distribution of recyclable nutrients, plus a harrow will ‘comb’ the grass, pull out dead or dormant material, and aerate the surface.”
To learn more about pasture or livestock management, visit uaex.edu or call your county extension office. Follow the Cooperative Extension Service on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Chief Communications Officer
University of Arkansas System Divisiion of Agriculture