Create a Healthy Spring Pasture

In most regions across the country, green blades of grass are just starting to peek out from the ground. To get a head start on a healthy pasture for your horses, try these tips from Carey Williams, Ph.D, equine extension specialist at Rutgers University.
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In most regions across the country, green blades of grass are just starting to peek out from the ground. To get a head start on a healthy pasture for your horses, try these tips from Carey Williams, Ph.D, equine extension specialist at Rutgers University.
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Get a head start on pasture management to create a healthy pasture for your horses. Testing soil and fighting weeds are among the tips of from Carey Williams, Ph.D, equine extension specialist at Rutgers University, to create that healthy spring pasture.

• Test your soil to see what nutrients it's lacking, and fertilize to make up for any deficiencies. A soil test kit should be available from your local cooperative extension office.

• Avoid slow-release fertilizers meant for turf or lawns. "Nitrogen fertilizer is toxic, and horses should not be allowed to graze pastures until rain has completely removed all of the fertilizer from the leaf surfaces and leached nitrogen from the soil," Dr. Williams says. "Generally, it takes about half an inch of rainfall to dissolve the nitrogen fertilizer and carry it into the soil." However, slow-release fertilizers continually deliver nitrogen to the grass, making it unsafe for grazing.

• Wait for the ground to thaw before dragging your pasture or adding a layer of compost. Otherwise, you risk damaging dormant grasses with machinery. If the ground is still frozen, compost will rest on top of the ground like mulch rather than dressing the soil as intended. Also, due to frozen ground, you risk having your compost wash away in springtime rains.

• Replenish dwindling pasture by overseeding (replanting seed over the existing grass). If you didn't overseed your pasture in the fall, you can do so now. However, you should keep horses off newly planted pastures until the grass is established, usually six to eight months. "When overseeding, consider a grass species that will compliment your field and growing conditions depending on the climate where your farm is located," Dr. Williams says.

• Start fighting weeds as soon as they appear in spring, before they get a chance to spread. Pull weeds by hand or use an herbicide to eliminate them. "Bare areas in pastures provide a perfect environment for weed seed germination and weed establishment," Dr. Williams says. "The best defense against weeds is to maintain a thick, healthy growth of pasture grasses that can compete with weed seedlings."

For more information on pasture management, contact your cooperative extension office in your county or contact the state's land grant institution.