Submitted to: Equus
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: December 29, 2004
Publication Date: December 30, 2004
Citation: Singer, J.W. 2004. Pasture revival strategy. Equus. 327:12-13.
In most cases, renovation, rather than more costly and time-consuming re-establishment, is all that is needed to improve pasture performance. Specific measures for improving a pasture depend on your region, your pasture's size, how many horses you have, and any topographical issues--low areas or wet spots--you may need to resolve. Your local Cooperative Extension office can help you devise a renovation plan appropriate to the specific conditions in your region. But no matter where you are you'll want to incorporate a few basic steps in your pasture-renovation strategy.
Test the soil. It's often necessary to amend grass dominated pastures with nitrogen fertilizer to enable desirable plants to thrive. Soil testing to determine potassium, phosphorus, and pH levels can tell you which fertilizer mix will improve pasture performance. Your local Cooperative Extension office can provide information on how to soil test your pasture. Most soil test reports include recommendations for nutrient application.
Control weeds. Desirable plant species in your pasture may be stunted because of competition from weeds. Broadleaf herbicides are most commonly used to control weeds in pastures because they will not kill grasses. Weed control can also be accomplished by a regular mowing schedule, incorporated into a rotational system: After horses graze a small area or paddock, mow the area and let it recover before returning your horses. When using any herbicide follow the label's recommendations for safe application.
Implement a rotation program. Pasture rotation improves pasture productivity by allowing plants to recover from grazing and traffic. If your available land is limited, consider dividing your pasture into two paddocks. Portable electric fencing provides the most efficient and economic way to create temporary paddocks for rotation. Wide colored poly tape is inexpensive, but flags may be necessary on the fence to enable horses to see them clearly. However, pastures that are too crowded with horses may be difficult to revive.
Reseed regularly. To maintain ground cover, you may need to reseed high traffic areas frequently. For large areas, the most efficient method to seed a pasture is with a no-tillage drill. Broadcasting seed on the soil surface is a less efficient method because seed to soil contact is reduced, which limits germination. If this is the only option available to you, use a disc, harrow or even a de-thatcher to loosen the surface soil. Because it can take up to four weeks for certain grass seeds to germinate, the best seeding time is in early spring or early fall. Another critical component after seeding is the time period before allowing horses to graze the pasture. Generally it's advisable to allow the plants to grow to six to eight inches before mowing and then allowing them to regrow through two more mowings before putting horses on the pasture. This process will ensure that the plants develop adequate root systems that can stand up to grazing and foot traffic.