For many horse owners, grazing season arrives in March. For those of us who made that oft questioned decision to live in the Upper Midwest, grazing may not happen until May or even June. Either way, it is important to use springtime pasture best management practices!
Before you open the gates to your pasture, picture this:
It’s a nice early Spring day—the sun is shining, birds are chirping. You have a herd of horses behind you in the dry lot, eager to go out to pasture. You open the gate, and they gallop off. “Horses are so majestic,” you say to yourself. As you wipe a mud splatter off your cheek, you look off into the distance. “Oh **** the back fence line is down!!”. With speed and agility that just may qualify you for the Olympics, you take off running in an attempt to get there before the horses notice, only to feel your foot part ways with your muck boot that is now firmly attached to the mud. Butterscotch the Shetland leads the herd to the opening. They run free. “I love my horses…” you remind yourself, as mud seeps into your sock.
Where did you go wrong? No, it’s not “getting into horses”—although I think we can all appreciate that sentiment on some days.
To avoid lost boots and loose horses, there are a number of steps you should take before opening up your pastures for the season.
- Check fence lines and gates. Fix any loose or broken sections to avoid phone calls from your neighbors that your horses are out again.
- Clean up any debris that could hurt your horse…because they will find it and hurt themselves.
- Test the soil and fertilize if necessary—most grass field in the Upper Midwest need nitrogen applied annually to help optimize growth. Your local Ag Extension agent can help you test and interpret results!
- Pick the right time to begin grazing—allow access when grass is about six to eight inches tall.
Note: If the ground is soft enough to leave deep hoofprints, it is too soft to graze. Good pasture management for horses means waiting until it has dried up a bit, which will help preserve your pasture long term and save you a wet sock.
- Acclimate your horse to the grass. Begin by grazing for 15 minutes, increasing the grazing time each day by 15 minutes until 5 hours of consecutive grazing is reached. After that, unrestricted grazing can occur. In the first few days, it may be easier to hand graze your horses than to turn them out for such a short amount of time.
Now put away the lip balm and get out the shedding blade—I’ll see you at the barn!