Posted on January 29, 2017 at 8:35 PM
Okay, lets talk Pasture Management!
One could be excused at thinking that during this time of the year it is not necessary to worry about pasture and your horses grazing time as it is our 'rain period' in Nth Qld.
It rains, the sun comes out, the grass grows, horses eat grass, your feed bill is reduced, everyone is happy........ Don't be fooled though, is it really that easy???
I'm no expert on this topic but I have put a lot of my time into listening to my very wise ‘step-father' (cattle and land man of many generations) on this topic. Not only have I listened intently to his advice, more importantly I have been trying to implement his recommendations to better improve the quality and quantity of our pasture on our small property.
Already we are up against a wall with the amount of horses that we have compared to volume of grazing land.
As I believe a lot of others can relate to, we keep many more livestock per acre than what our wonderful land and mother nature can keep fertile.
So what can we do about it? My tips here won't go into great detail (as I pointed out i'm not a GURU on this) but I am going to bullet point a few things that we have implemented over the last 9 years and it has helped us have better quality grass, land and happier, healthier horses.
- 1. LOOK AFTER YOUR PASTURE AND PLANTS!!! I can't stress this enough.
- 2. DON'T OVER GRAZE - A very big one. If you can see dirt in your paddock when you walk through it (maybe not at the gate and fence line where horses walk) but the bulk of your paddock. At some point your paddock has been over grazed and will take some time to recover.
- 3. Allow grazing of grasses once they start to seed (not earlier). Just allow the horses to 'top' the grass and then move them out so the paddocks can continue to grow. If the grass is left too long after it has gone to seed, the quality starts to reduce and the horse(s) may become picky.
- 4. Rotate your paddocks for grazing. As we don't have large paddocks, we mostly have the horse(s) grazing one paddock for a short amount of time. Knowing when to stop grazing is just as critical to maintaining a productive pasture as deciding when to begin grazing. Pastures must have a periodic rest from grazing, so they can recuperate and recover from grazing and hoof damage.
- 5. We do irrigate so that the horses can have 365 days access to grass. I know this is not possible for everyone so thats why it is extremely important not to OVER GRAZE your paddocks.
- 6. When the heavens open in Nth Qld during over the months of Dec - April, if you have looked after your paddocks then your grass will grow quickly. Not only that you will have quite a lot and it is what my ‘step-father' calls 'free feed'. The horses can come in, top it and then it will regrow with little assistance or effort on our part.
- 7. We have parts of our property we call 'Sacrifice' areas. These are areas that don't grown grass very well and therefore we have chosen to sacrifice a small portion of our grazing land to house the horses during periods of rest and recovery of the other grazing areas. On the sacrifice areas we hand feed hay. On areas of our property that we can not irrigate we use these quite regularly to preserve the grazing paddocks and so they are 'rain ready' when the time comes. If we over graze the paddock(s) we’d have to feed hay anyway so we prefer to feed out hay earlier to preserve our paddocks that we can not irrigate to keep them in ‘rain ready’ condition for when the time is right.
So why go to all this trouble? Well not only does it reduce dust, make the property look appealing, the benefits to your horse are extensive.
- 1. Grass (or fiber of some type) is a basic necessity for normal functioning of the equine gastrointestinal tract, and a well-managed pasture will be an economical source of high-quality feed.
- 2. Pasture is a great place for horses to move around and free exercise, which can be important in maintaining healthy gastrointestinal function.
- 3. The above can lead to a reduction in veterinary expenses. Anyone who has ever experienced colic will attest to the stress (potentially life threatening) that it not only puts on the horse but also the stress to themselves and i'm sure anyone would prefer to prevent that?
- 4. Lower or reduced feed and supplement expenses. Depending on factors such as the horses work load, quality/quantity of pasture, time spent grazing and the stage of pasture growth.
- 5. Grass can be an excellent source of digestible nutrients for the horse, high in both digestible energy and crude protein. (levels depend on the quality, types of grass and stage of growing).
- 6. Encourages a more positive emotional and psychological state of mind for the horse. Think 'Happier Horse'
Many horse owners allow their horse access to a pasture continuously. The horse usually remains on the same piece of land over the whole grazing season. This type of grazing system is called "continuous grazing".
Although continuous grazing requires the least amount of capital investment and management, this type of system can be very unhealthy for the land. Owners need to weigh up their own personal situation and see what works best for them and their beloved horse(s).
So for 2017 onwards we will be continuing to learn and implement 'pasture management' strategies that will benefit our property and horses.
Picture above is of one of our paddocks still in the growth phase but is nearly ready in a week or so to be grazed.