Sunday, April 8, 2012

On Grass and The Way Horses Destroy It.

Anyone who has a horse in her back yard has noticed that horses tend to eat the same grass over and over again, chomping it short, to the dirt.  They will continue to eat that short grass, while completely bypassing the long, lush grass growing in the same pasture.
The mowing crew at our old place.

When we were at the Horse World Expo in February, my husband sat in on a lecture on pasture management and passed along a few nuggets of information to me, enough to make me very interested in improving our grazing this year.

I decided to do a little additional research and found this article from the University of Vermont:  Elements of a Successful Horse Grazing System, by Gwyneth Harris, former VT Pasture Network Coordinator.

The horses at our new place, in what would become the sacrifice area.
In the few seconds it takes to decide if something is worth reading, this frustratingly true sentence encouraged me to stick with it: “A couple of other vagaries of evolution: horses developed the hoof—the most effective known method of destroying pasture plants; and horses have two sets of front teeth—the second most effective method of destroying pasture.”

The long and the short of it is (hahaha – Get it? Grass? Long? Short?), I am going to continue to improve my pasture preservation education and systems this year.

Stormkite and DeCato show where horses+rain=mud.
I do have experience in horse keeping on small acreage, as the book title says (Cherry Hill).  At our old house (just sold!  To a horse owner!), we kept up to five horses on about three acres of pasture.  I had just finished fencing another three acres when we moved (doh!).

I learned the hard way how quickly horses eat and destroy pasture, and did a lot of emergency reading on pasture management, rotational grazing and sacrifice paddocks.  By the time we moved, I had a system in place that allowed the mares to have grass all through the grazing season, but in small amounts, only a couple hours a day, and we fed hay all year.  

Here, we have about seven acres of fenced pasture for five horses, and I will be adding to that this year (the pasture, not the horses!)   I’m going to start the plans for a rotational grazing, paddock grid that will allow proper grass recovery and growth.   

One of the horse races that I love.
I like this idea because it will allow the horses to have good grass during every moment of our precious grazing season.   But, on the downside, it will also break up the pasture, preventing the huge, sweeping horse races that I love to watch when the herd gets playing. 

I just might have to build a racing lane in that grid!


  1. A barn I was at very successful used rotational grazing, using moveable electric fences inside larger pastures. The sections were set up in long, narrow strips - good for moving the horses around while grazing and also allowing those wonderful gallops!

  2. That sounds like a good design!