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Maintaining Healthy Horse Pastures
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  1. Maintaining Healthy Horse Pastures Chris Teutsch Southern Piedmont AREC Blackstone, VA

  2. Introduction • Horses co-evolved with grasslands • natural grazing animal • able to digest plant fiber • extract energy from low quality feed source • Modern Pastures • high quality feed source • inexpensive feed source • hay can cost 4 to 6 times • safe exercise area

  3. Introduction • Little agronomic training • Poor pasture management • loss of groundcover • loss of desirable species • increase in weed species • limited value as a feed • unsafe exercise area • environmental problem Overstocked Pasture

  4. Manure Water Erosion Damage • Ag Stewardship Act • 18% equine in 2005 • Soil loss • Nutrients offsite • Manure is washed into waterways • Erosion is prevented by maintaining groundcover

  5. Pasture Management Topics • Plant Growth • relation to management • Pasture Species • species selection • Controlling Grazing • layout of paddocks • pasture size • rotational grazing basics Strong relationship between horse and owner impacts decision making

  6. Forage Plant Growth

  7. O2 O2 O2 O2 O2 O2 The Photosynthetic Factory Sunlight, H20, Nutrients, CO2 Factory:Plant Leaf Consumer Outlet: Growth and Maintenance of the plant Warehouse: CHO Reserves in Plant

  8. Defoliation Event • What is needed for regrowth? ENERGY • Where does this energy come from? • leaf area remaining • stored carbohydrates

  9. Location of Carbohydrate Reserves

  10. Alfalfa • 100% dependent on stored CHO’s • Decrease until 6-8” • Return to precut level by early bloom • Allow 30-35 d rest • Cut at 2 inches • All forages have similar cycle

  11. Grass Regrowth Collar is present = no more growth Do we graze this leaf off? STOP!

  12. Morphology and Physiology in Relation to Grazing Management High Leaf Area + High CHOs = Higher Yields + Faster Recovery

  13. Forage Species for Horse Pastures

  14. Forages in Virginia • “Transition Zone” • not in north and south • cool-season species-grow in spring & fall • warm-season species-grow in summer • no single forage well adapted over entire grazing season • Problem or opportunity? • many species seasonally adapted

  15. JAN MAR MAY JUL SEPT NOV KY Bluegrass Orchardgrass Tall Fescue Ladino Clover Red Clover Alfalfa Small Grains Ryegrass Bermudagrass Switchgrass Caucasian Bluestem Sorghum-Sudan Pearl Millet Cool-Season Grasses Legumes Cool-Season Annual Grasses Warm-Season Grasses Warm-Season Annual Grasses Adapted from Controlled Grazing of Virginia’s Pastures, Publication 418-012 Growth Curves for Common Forages

  16. Forage Species for Virginia • Characteristics of forages species • regionally adapted • adapted to your soils • high yielding • high nutritive value • drought and heat tolerant • tolerant of close and frequent grazing • persistent • What are the options?

  17. Kentucky Bluegrass • Cool-season perennial • Best adapted west of Blueridge Mountains • Forms dense sod • Tolerates close and frequent grazing • Lower yielding • Does not tolerate heat and drought

  18. Orchardgrass • High nutritive value • Palatable • Hay or Pasture • Bunchgrass-forms open sod • Does not tolerate close and frequent defoliation • Limited summer growth • Limited persistence • Insect problems

  19. Tall Fescue • Most important grass species in transition zone • Tolerates close and frequent grazing • Drought and heat tolerant • Easy to establish • Tough sod

  20. Tall Fescue Toxicosis • Infected with an endophyte • drought and grazing tolerance • production of toxins • Toxic effects on broodmares • abortions, prolonged gestation, birthing problems, retained placentas, agalactia • Management • remove mares 60-90 days before foaling • replace infected stands • new technologies

  21. Novel or Friendly Endophyte • Gives persistence and stress tolerance • No production of toxins • Initial research showed no reproductive problems • Field must be fescue free before seeding • Must be properly managed • No long-term persistence data in horse pastures

  22. Bermudagrass

  23. Seeded Bermudagrass • Bermudagrass is adapted to Virginia • Relatively little planted • Sprigs and sprigging • do not have equipment and sprig sources • Seeded bermudagrass • establish like any small seeded forage • Cultivar • single pure variety • Blend • mixture of several varieties, AZ common, giant • same trade name, but different mixture

  24. 2002 DM Yield: 1st Production Yr Rainfall was more than 8 inches below normal

  25. Persistence: Cold Tolerance Million dollar question!!!

  26. Spring Green Up-5/9/2003 ‘SunGrazer’ ‘Cheyenne’ ‘Pasto Rico’ ‘Wrangler’

  27. Selecting a Variety • Yield is important • Cold tolerance is more important • Do not use varieties that include ‘Giant’ and/or ‘Arizona Common’ • Disease resistance?????? Extreme cold will kill all varieties!!!

  28. Red Clover • Most important pasture legume • Short-lived perennial • Good drought tolerance • Excellent seedling vigor • Easily established • frost seeding • “Red Clover Slobbers”

  29. White Clover • Important in pastures • Three types • small, medium, large • Ladino or large type produces 3-5X • Stolons • well adapted to grazing • Poor drought tolerance • persists via reseeding • Very high in quality

  30. Getting in Control

  31. Pasture Fertility • Soil Test • sample depth should be 2-4” • adjust pH to 6.2-6.5 • adjust P and K to high level • maintain nutrient level • Nitrogen Management • cool-season grasses • 40-60 lb/A in spring • 40-60 lb/A in late summer or early fall • Animals recycle 90-95% of nutrients • redistribution of nutrients • drag pastures to distribute dung • soil test and adjust P and K every 2-3 years

  32. Controlling Grazing • Residual Leaf Area • rotate horses when shortest grass is at proper stubble height • leave plenty of leaf area • Carbohydrate Reserves • rest period allows for replenishment of carbohydrates after regrowth • Maintain Botanical Composition • 30% legumes no N needed

  33. Pasture Layout • One large pasture or several smaller pastures? • One large pasture • continuous grazing weakens sod • selective grazing • redistribution of nutrients • Several smaller paddocks • rotational grazing strengthens sod • reduces selective • better distribution of manure

  34. Paddock Number and Size • One horse requires 2-3 acres • REQUIREMENT-NOT AN OPTION • Paddock Number • 4 to 6 paddocks • Paddock Size • depend on horse number and rotation interval • rotation interval should be < 5 days • Designate a Sacrifice Paddock • well drained • low erosion potential • surrounded by a grass buffer

  35. Paddock Layout -close to square -avoid irregular shapes -access to shade Barn House -fresh water source -uniform soil, forage, slope, aspect, production potential

  36. The Real World • Not everyone has 2-3 acres per horse • We can’t control the weather • We can control grazing!!!!!!!! • What do you do? • subdivide and rotate • do not graze pastures that have not regrown • Use a sacrifice paddock • feed horses hay in when grass is not growing • exercise during wet conditions • accept that you can not maintain grass

  37. Water Barn 2 3 4 1 6 5 Sacrifice Paddock Example Paddock Layout Warm-Season Grass Warm-Season Grass

  38. Questions?