Many of us are currently having to deal with wet pastures and an abundance of mud. Any thoughts of paddock maintenance tend to be focused on keeping high traffic areas as free of deep mud as possible, but managing pasture is a year-round consideration which will bring many benefits to our horses, ensure year-round forage and help to reduce the problem of poaching.
Below is a brief introduction from World Horse Welfare on what good paddock maintenance involves but you can find out more information and details on each topic on their website: https://bit.ly/3naXJ4i
Why do we need to manage our pasture?
Good pasture management has numerous benefits, including providing a safe turnout area, allowing you to grow the type of grass you want and can reduce your feed costs. It can also improve biodiversity and reduce the environmental impact, as grassland is a big carbon trap. Healthy grassland is also more resistant to poaching and desiccation.
What do we need to do?
A great place to start with pasture management is soil analysis, which will enable you to plan what needs to be done in your particular paddock and will also highlight what type of problems you may encounter.
What are the main things I need to consider?
Three main process should be undertaken annually and you may choose to get a contractor in to do these, which can be an opportunity to over-seed with grass types you choose, and to re-seed bare areas.
Harrowing helps to aerate the sward and encourages grass growth as well as removing moss, dead grass and weeds. It can help tackling poached areas, depending on the severity.
Rolling will flatten any remaining poaching and firm up the soil structure around the roots of the grass.
Topping can improve the quality of the sward, encourage young growth and stimulate new root development.
- Fertilising of horse pastures can be associated with productive grasses and metabolic disorders in horses but choosing a fertiliser lower in nitrogen will help to prevent rapid leaf growth.
- Phosphorus and potassium are essential for healthy plant root growth, which in turn is important for helping your paddock stand up to dry and wet weather conditions.
- Natural fertiliser options include manure, slurry or seaweed, which add nitrogen and boost fertility.
- If you choose to spread dirty bedding as a fertiliser, you need to ensure that it’s well-rotted (for at least a year) to avoid it taking nitrogen out of the soil while breaking down, hindering grass growth and potentially spreading worm eggs around the pasture.
- “Starvation paddocks” can sometimes do more harm than good as grass which has been grazed down very tightly will be stressed and the soil will be less resistant to erosion or poaching.
- If you do need to control weeds you could choose to have them sprayed off by a licensed contractor. Depending on the chemical used, horses would need to be kept off the paddock for a period of time after treatment.
- Topping can be used for weed control purposes to prevent weeds going to seed, but if you do this with any ragwort be very careful to remove every trace of the cut plant .
- Digging small patches of weeds (especially ragwort) up by hand is generally the most economic and effective method of weed control.
- Poo-picking your paddock, especially if it’s a smaller one, helps to keep the pasture palatable as well as reducing weeds and the worm burden of any horses grazing the field.
- Poo-pick at least twice a week and ideally more often than that.
- Stocking rates
- A standard stocking rate for horses is one acre per horse, plus one extra acre
- The ideal stocking density can vary significantly depending on the type of land as well as the breed, size and age of the equines being kept there.
- Over-stocking can lead to poor soil and grass quality which in turn can impact on your horses’ health.
Gateways & water troughs
- If poaching is an issue you can scrape out a semi-circle approximately three horse-lengths from the gate or trough and put down crushed stone. Cheaper options, such as putting woodchip down can end up adding to the problem when the material starts to break down.
- If you can, place the gate in the part of the field that stands up best to wet conditions. If you have multiple gates, rotate between which one you use.
Pasture management might seem costly and/or time consuming, but even small changes can make a big difference and if you view it as an investment in your horse’s health all of a sudden it’s worth every penny!