Getting the best from your grazing takes time, effort and most importantly a plan. With spring on the way, there is still plenty of time to get jobs in the diary and ensure you have enough grass to see you to next winter.
On average, horses spend up to 16 hours a day eating, and making an effort in improving your grazing will be hugely beneficial in the long run, saving you the worry of sourcing extra forage. With the lack of a cold winter and plenty of rain, it’s likely your grazing has seen better days but don’t fret, grass in an amazing plant at recovering with the right help!
February is the perfect time for soil analysis, knowledge that will benefit you later in the year when it comes to fertilising. Soil testing will identify any nutrients that are lacking from the pasture, giving you a good indication about the general soil health.
Once the ground has dried enough to take the weight of machinery, usually from March onwards, have the pasture chain harrowed to remove any dead vegetation and aerate the soil, helping with spring growth.
Now is the time to fight against poisonous plants and annoying weeds – try hand removal first but if they are persistent, professional advice should be sought before applying any herbicide.
With a clear view of what you have to work with, decide if the grass would benefit from over-seeding, or whether or not it needs reseeding. If you decide against over-seeding, roll the land to get rid of any uneven areas, which will also encourage the grass to develop a healthy root structure.
Once the grass begins to grow, slow releasing fertiliser can be applied using the information from the earlier soil test, ensuring the grass has optimum conditions for good growth. If you are unsure of what fertiliser to choose, seek advice from specialists in equine pasture.
For areas prone to turning into bogs in wet weather, spring is the perfect time to lay grass mats. Made from rubber, these mats protect the ground and grass, and the ring-hole design allows the grass to grow back through the mat.
In the early summertime, pastures should be topped to remove long, stalky grass and if the spring was too wet, now is the time to harrow and roll the ground. Throughout the following months, continue a strict weed control regime – the faster you remove them, the less likely they are to take a hold. However, do not top poisonous plants such as ragwort or foxgloves as once dried, these become more palatable to the horse.
With the wetter weather coming in, make sure existing drainage can cope with the downpours by clearing plants and debris from ditches and drains. Water trough pipes or taps should be checked for leaks and insulated against the cold.
Any areas with oak or sycamore trees should be fenced off, and any acorns or sycamore seeds that drop must be removed on a regular basis to protect horses for the dangers they pose. If you want to improve the natural shelter in your paddocks, you should start planting new hedges or trees from autumn, but make sure anything you plant is safe for horse consumption.
The plan for winter paddock care ought to revolve around minimising damage. While cutting turnout time is most people’s last resort, try to avoid poaching as much as you can. This may mean fencing off sections of the field, rotating between paddocks more regularly, or laying gravel or woodchips in gateways.
Although you may not want to think ahead to the delights of owning a horse in winter, planning how you will maintain your pastures in spring will make the transition between seasons easier and with better grazing, comes reduced feed bills! For those needing a helping hand, there are plenty of land service companies across the region that can give advice as well as complete plenty of jobs from fencing and hedge trimming, to improving drainage and reseeding.