Careful management in the spring will increase the grazing potential of your pasture. We may be off to a slow start for spring, but following some essential pasture management guidelines will help ensure a nutritious pasture for horses during the grazing season.
- Keep horses off of early pastures. This spring promises to be wet with a delayed growing season. Delicate early growth combined with wet sod makes a slick and messy turnout for our heavy hooved horses. The best thing you can do for your pasture is to keep your horses off until the grasses reach at least an 8 inch stand and the soil provides a dry solid footing. A sacrifice lot supplied with hay, water and a mineral block will provide some sunshine, nutrition and exercise for your horse without destroying the grazing potential of your pasture. For more information on sacrifice lots, read the Michigan State University Extension News article Utilizing a sacrifice/exercise lot for your horse.
- Frost seed low-quality areas in your pasture. March is the month to frost seed in Michigan, but the long winter is providing a few extra days to get it done in the northern part of the state. While the southern counties are thawing out, many parts of mid and northern Michigan still have snow on the ground. Frost seeding involves overseeding pastures while the ground is still frozen and letting the thawing action of the ground draw the seeds into the soil bed. For more information on frost seeding, read Frost Seeding Guidelines.
- Improve your pasture with lime or a fertilizer application. Early spring is the perfect time to improve your pasture. Collecting a soil sample can help you evaluate your soil’s nutritional needs for the season. If your soil is acid or lacks essential minerals, early spring application of the correct rate of fertilizer or lime will boost your pasture’s productivity and you will see an increased production of quality forage and decreased weed contamination.
- Slowly introduce horses to spring pastures. Spring pastures are high in moisture and nutrients and can be a shock to the Michigan horse’s digestive system after a long winter of eating hay. Horses should be introduced to pasture slowly over several weeks to reacquaint their digestive system with green grass. Horses that are overweight, have foundered, or have high blood insulin levels should have pasture access strictly controlled during the entire grazing season.
- Prepare for a dry summer. While it is wet now with concerns of flooding on our weather radar, we need to be prepared for the possibility of drought this summer. Good spring pasture management will go a long way to helping prolong the grazing season. In addition, mowing weeds, dragging manure piles and resting pastures to prevent overgrazing during the summer months is paramount to long-term pasture productivity. Rotational grazing may also be a great strategy to increase your horse pasture’s longevity and nutritional quality.