Greener Pastures

We got this picture before beginning our 3rd day of work on our grazing pasture-rotation system:

my offspring and me, Mother's Day 2011

In 2008 I received a completed arena for Mother’s day. This year, my gift is the opening of one of our new grazing pastures for the horses! We collected our materials and started this work last week. On Sundays, we get free rental of a post-hole digger machine from my oldest son Saul’s work.

I used to wonder why my lawn looked better than the horses’ pasture. You have grass, you put horses on it, horses eat the grass, and it grows back, right? No—not really.

Horses will eat what they like best, first. Meanwhile, plants and weeds that they do not like to eat will continue to grow. The grass the horses like already has two problems:

1.) It has been nipped short, so its ability to photosynthesize with its remaining green plant material has been severely limited. It will recuperate at a very slow rate (thus, my lawn looking better than the pasture) and it will draw energy from the roots* to do so.

2.) The uneaten, less desirous plants are growing fine and are shading the needed grasses, making it even harder for the needed grasses to grow.

*The roots of the desired grasses will be much shallower because they were not allowed to grow or develop. The wanted grass can even die off, leaving you with nothing but weeds and poisonous plants.

So, what to do? Fence off the pasture into sections. We will have four grazing pastures by the time we are finished fencing new grazing pastures above our orchard.

Step 1: Let the horses eat in a pasture that has 6 to 10 inches of length of desired grasses. Let them eat it down to only 2-3 inches of plant length remaining.

Step 2: Move the horses to the next pasture. Cut the pasture above, to cut back all the undesired and uneaten plants, and leave it to grow. The grass can now compete with the undesired plants.

Step 3: Watch all of your pastures. If one is getting too long before the horses will get to it, cut it. You do not want the grasses to go to seed. Then a lot of plant energy is taken from the stems and roots of the plant. Cut before it goes to seed so that the horses are eating the grass when it has the most energy in the stem.

My most-used pasture behind the barn was fenced-off last week and is now in pasture recovery. It is being allowed to grow, and we will be quickly killing weeds and undesirable plants as they come up. We are adding seed to this pasture and nurturing forage plant growth.

The horses will be transitioning slowly to their new, greener pastures, and unfortunately—I’ve had to order a grazing muzzle for Ebony, our pony. It was either that or shut her away from Dreamer and the new pastures. A grazing muzzle allows a horse to get about 20% of what they would normally get without it. She will only have to wear it during grazing times. The horses will be closed in to the upper zone near the barn at night so that I can remove Ebony’s muzzle. This area is mostly grazed short already.

The horses will also be able to access the barn during the day for water, cooler than the trees’ shade, minerals, and fly relief. There is a gate system which shuts off unused pastures but still allows barn access.

There is still a trail around all the new pastures that we can ride through, and gates installed between pastures to allow us to continue to ride through our “park” area. It’s beautiful up there, with a stand of old White Pines I call “the Grandpas” (remember, I love white pines.)

Fallen White Pine needles will deter plant growth in a wide area at their base, so I do pay attention to where the babies sprout up. We let as many stay (in tree lines, for example) as we can and take down pine babies which will take up too much pasture growth.

Next to the arena and extending to the property line, adjacent to our “park area,” is a southwestern corner of the property which is completely forest. I am pretty spent physically from the weekend, but I loved our Mother’s Day! We were done by 4:pm, and Scott worked on a nice dinner while I let the horses in to the pasture for their first introductory time.

Ebony walked her way through the old fence spot, into the new pasture, to eat, eat eat...
Dream rocked-and-rolled his way in with a gallop, a rear, a kick, all done with a mid-air spin. I love that horse. 
Nijinsky, Native Dancer, Speedwell, Stop the Music,
Dr. Fager, Nothirdchance, Tom Fool, Hyperion


Rising Rainbow said...

I wish I had enough land to do some rotating here. Too many horses and not enough land makes it hard to get the issue fixed but this is a great post.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

What a wonderful Mother's Day you had!! Very productive. Love the family photo!!

Linda said...

That is a cool picture! Happy Mother's Day late. I like the way you think about pasture rotation--it should work out well that way. We just let them out, which is not a good plan. :/

Dreaming said...

It sounds wonderful. We split our 3+ acres into three pasturettes. Sadly, this year we have had NO rain and very little winter snow. The grass is having a hard time. The tallest it has even gotten is about 4"! My guys only go out for about 2 hours. I am having to feed hay. They are sad!!

allhorsestuff said...

You tell em' sister! I took a class last year from our local extension..THAT is what they taught me. I wish that the barns I board in would do the rotation! Dang it!

Excellent photo, really adorable! Nice team work gift, the best kind.

Allison said...

Dreaming, I hope you get some water! :-) and K- maybe your local extension had a hand-out you can give your barn..? (hint, hint to them...)

juliette said...

Oh, what a wonderful Mother's Day. I love the photo and envy that you live where your horses are living. I am only 3 miles away but it may as well be millions when I can't enjoy seeing them all the time.

Thanks for the post about rotating. I am still in my figure out what to do mode regarding rotation and horse keeping. I have gates and separate pastures, and all was well until Foggy arrived. He is too thin and needs the lush grass and Pie is too chubby and needs the sparse grass.