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Horse Pasture Pleasers For Spring

10 Tips For Managing Your Pasture

1. Break it up.

Two horses grazing in the springHoles, ruts, erosion gullies and compacted areas aren't conducive to plant growth, are unsafe, invite weed competition, and just look bad. A heavy drag, disc or harrow can produce a nice seedbed and break up compacted areas allowing water to infiltrate and cycle pathogens and nutrients for plant growth.

2. Hold the fertilizer.

On cool season grasses, hold off on later spring nitrogen unless you need to thicken up a stand with early spring nitrogen.  Excessive nitrogen discourages clover and can increase endophyte levels in some fescue. Too much growth in later heat causes stress that respires the grass tops relative to the roots and shoots.

3. You can be in clover.

Some horse owners don't prefer white clover or legumes, and horses preferentially graze quality grasses. Yet these clovers and other legumes provide quality grazing, produce natural nitrogen and can offset some of fescue's ill effects. Encourage by clipping or grazing tall grass in the spring, hold off on nitrogen that stimulates the grass.

4. Rescue from fescue.

Most pastures have some and others have all fescue. Fescue is the least preferred new seedings. Special situations with brood mares and foals require fescue control. But, it grows nearly year round. To establish quality tall grass alternatives completely eliminate fescue in dedicated areas first. Good choices are orchardgrass, ryegrass or low or friendly endophyte fescue.

5. Too rich.

In spring, before tall grasses reach 8-10 inches, their rich sugar and starch content can nearly be equivalent to grain. Delay grazing or only allow sensitive horses to graze for short periods. Once the plant starts to shoot a flower bud, the fiber and lignin content increase naturally to provide a good balance of nutrients.

6. A time for all weeds.

Early spring weeds should be controlled before they're easily spotted. Control winter annuals like chickweed in March, spring blooming perennials like buttercup in April, summer annuals like spiny pigweed in May and June, and summer blooming perennials like horsenettle in June or later.

7. Fence, fence and more fence.

Horses need exercise so there is a limit to restricting paddock size to manage plant growth with grazing. If you have no cross fencing, start small and simple. One restricted paddock can produce a lot of feed and you'll have no problem getting your horse to graze a new area of stockpiled spring growth. Just like mowing a lawn, give it a rest when leaf area is down to 2 inches.

8. Clip and save.

It's ironic that you have to clip excessive spring growth to promote more growth. But, when the lower leaves start dying and turning yellow, the plant can't produce any more canopy and has maxed out – the plant then starts to decline without cutting or grazing. Clip early and don't let a lot of grass "windrow" to choke out new growth from the base of the plant.

9. Water, seed and dirt.

If you need to reseed cool season grasses, hold off unless your new seeds only need water and dirt. If it gets hot and dry, the seed won't sprout or the new seedling is stressed. Putting seed in existing, heavy sod or weeds will not let it grow. If you want new grass or to overseed existing pasture, you need to eliminate weeds or undesirable grasses first. Bare dirt or a sparse population of existing grass make seeding more successful without special equipment like a no-till drill.

10. Make hay the easy way.

Every day of good grazing is a day of not feeding hay. Any and all of these suggestions can help to make your own hay without using equipment, harvesting, hauling and storage. That's quite a discount on your hay purchases from a little time invested in managing the pasture.

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