May 8, 2008

Pasture Management

Here's a note on pasture management from the low desert in
California. We took an unused one-acre irrigated riding arena (outside, not
covered) and seeded it in fall of 1997, using Pierce College Pasture
mix. We've had ups and downs with this pasture since then including
spurge invasions and other weeds.

About two years ago the pasture had deteriorated from drought and
overgrazing. There were bare spots and large areas where spurge was
the predominant plant. However, we did not want to stop putting horses
into the pasture completely since we also use it as an exercise
turnout. So we bought enough panels to divide the acre into two
paddocks that are roughly equal.

We started to only let horses into one side. The other side we
attacked the weeds a small area at a time. With two horses we get
about a bushel and a half of manure from their stalls every day. We
purchased a mix of rye grass seed and bermuda grass seed, mixed 10
parts rye to 1 bermuda grass. We then began to reseed the pasture by
sprinkling a little seed on a bare area, then spreading and thoroughly
breaking up the day's manure so it created a thin (1/2 inch) layer
over the seed on top of bare soil. One day's worth covers between 10
& 15 square feet, we make sure all of the apples are broken up by
using the back of a manure fork and rubbing sideways over the apples,
which is very effective.

We water our pasture every day in the warm weather, and about twice a
week in winter unless it is freezing cold or raining. About every two
weeks we switch sides with the horses and start spreading manure and
seed on bare spots on the unoccupied side.

We were concerned the horses would get worms from the uncomposted
spread horse apples so we began using a daily wormer. As far as we can
tell this daily stuff along with a regular quarterly worming program
of ivermectin has not caused any problems. FYI, we do not have bots
here so I cannot address whether this would be a good plan if you do.
Managing the pasture this way has been extremely effective in
rejuvenating the turf. We spread urea about three times a year, using
a mix of 4 parts urea and 1 part grass seed mixture, spread on the
pasture side when the horses have just been moved out, so there is a
two or three week period for fertilizer to dissolve and be absorbed by
the grass.

The biggest hassle in all this, which hasn't changed with this method
of management, is that once or twice a year we have to go in with a
flail mower and take down the long grass around the edges of the
pasture. For some reason the horses prefer to eat in the middle and
will take the center grass down to nothing while the edges are two
feet tall.

If you depend on rain this might not work but here our pasture would
be bare dirt without irrigation, so it's been very effective.
Our water is alkaline, so I don't think we would ever spread lime. I'd
worry a horse might get into that stuff if it wasn't completely
dissolved. Yours in pasture management ;-) ...
and ...

Cheers for chickens!