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Great Tips for Healthy Forage

Your pasture is a source for serious nutrition if you plan and maintain it properly. Generally speaking, you will need to allocate two to four acres per animal, but occasionally you can get away with a smaller pasture if you use it for limited grazing. Some horse owners will divide their pastures into paddocks to increase the health and maximize the amount of the forage.
To ensure that your pasture contains good forage, rely on the species that are native to your area, since your climate and soil will support them best. Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, tall fescue and also orchardgrass are popular cool season grasses which should be mixed with some white clover seeds. The clover is important since it elevated protein levels and also adds nitrogen for the soil. If you live in a warm area, you will want to rely on warm season grass, such as Bermuda grass. While it is true that you do not need to seed your cool season grass until the late summer or early fall, it is never too early to plan for your next reseeding session.
Here is a list of grasses that are both liked for their nutritional values but also for their palatability:
  • Orchardgrass is a forage of choice that may grow anywhere in the United States. It will do better in the heartland and the northern portion of the country.
  • Kentucky bluegrass is highly tolerant of being grazed almost to the roots and will do well from the upper mid-Atlantic northward. It is interesting to note that the amount of coverage on your pasture is somewhat less than that of other grasses.
  • Ryegrass is of high quality and will grow well wherever Kentucky bluegrass is grown.
  • If you plant fescue, make sure it is the endophyte low version. It will grow up in abundant number and can be grown almost anywhere. If the bag does not specifically state that it is endophyte low, do not purchase it, since the regular fescue has been indicated in a host of illnesses and problems associated with pregnant mares and their foals.
  • Alfalfa will require some maintenance, and it is best to purchase the kind that is specifically developed for use in grazing pastures.
  • Timothy can be mixed in with other grasses and will do well in cool weather.
  • If you are pressed for time and need a grass that will grow quickly, consider seeding with hybrid pearl millet in the late spring. This variety will need to be reseeded every year.
Obviously, in addition to high quality forage, you will also need to fertilize frequently – usually in the fall – to ensure that you replenish depleted nutrients. Begin with a soil test that will alert you to your pasture’s acidity and potassium and phosphorus levels. Add some lime, and you will be well on your way to growing a healthy pasture. Usually these soil additives should be supplemented prior to seeding the area – either by no-till seeding or the more successful conventional tilling method.

If you want to ensure your pasture’s maximum health, it would be wise to keep the horses off until the grass is at least ten inches tall. Move them off the pasture when they grazed it down to about two inches. Since horses sometimes graze down certain spots while leaving others untouched, it is a good idea to mow the pasture where the horses have been grazing to permit even growth of the grass. Additionally, keep an eye open for weeds – some of which are toxic for horses – and treat with an herbicide approved for the use in pastures. Follow the directions carefully when using an herbicide to make sure that your animals are not suffering any ill effects.

Read the next horse pasture article on Growing your Own Hay.
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