Thursday, September 22, 2016

Making Your Pasture Great For The Horse and The Environment

Get your priorities straight. You are not trying to make the perfect golf course, lawn or cemetery. You need to maximize your land so that it produces the greatest amount of horse healthy vegetation with the least amount of runoff possible, at the least cost possible.

1. Do a soil test to determine ph level. A correct balance will give optimum growth and will likely reduce the amount of fertilizer that you use.

2. Check with your extension agent for seed planting recommendations for your area, but do not create a monoculture. Plant several different species of plants and encourage beneficial forbs such as dandy lions.

3. Mow instead of using herbicide. Mowing makes grasses flourish and either destroys or minimizes most summer weeds.

4. Use a subsoiling plow to cut through compaction, allow water penetration of the soil and to fully aerate the ground. This radically reduces runoff and mud accumulation. Might be the best kept secret in pasture management. A subsoiling plow is cheap and along with lime are likely to give you the most payoff for the cost.

5. Hire free labor. Worms and beetles do not charge for the work that they do. Composting techniques that involve earth worm production will not only create great compost but will also give you thousands of earth worms that can be gently transferred to the pasture. They will work to create better soil for years to come. Learn all about the dung beetles that live in your area. Encourage their proliferation. They can bury up to 40% of the manure in the pasture, reducing runoff, aerating the soil, turning the manure into a soil amendment, and radically reducing the number of parasite eggs in the pasture by putting them underground where they will not be consumed by the horses. Remove horses from the pasture for about 30 hours after giving them ivermectin wormers. That drug kills dung beetles.

6. Plant diakon radishes in areas of soil compaction. Keep the horses away from them until they are fully grown. Will reduce soil compaction and will bring nutrients up to the near surface where grasses will be able to use them.

7. Plant winter cover which will reduce runoff and provide some grazing over many of the colder months. I like various rye grasses and clover. (Insulin resistant horses should be kept away from clover as should all obese horses.)

8. Research rotational grazing, become an expert on it and use it as much as possible on your land.

9. Be very proactive in fighting erosion. Seed bare spots. Washes and ruts can often heal themselves by simply placing large tangles of natural baling string from your hay in the fastest flowing parts of the gorges. This slows the flow and allows the soil to become sediment, healing the soil's wound by accretion.

10. Cut swales to slow runoff and consider digging a few retention ponds which can be very shallow and can e dug with a hand shovel. If the soil is not too sandy fence those ponds off from the horses and plant native wetland plants in and around the ponds (e.g willows, cat tails, etc--but no red maple. Wilting red maple leaves are deadly for horses.)

11. There are a thousand reasons to refrain from feeding your horse commercial horse feeds but one of the reasons is that doing so produces wastes that are much higher in ammonia and phosphates than a diet of grass, hay and forbs.

12. Wind row composting is often the best way to deal with waste. The compost forms faster than with traditional methods of composting. Feed round bales in a waste area of the pasture. With a tractor blade make wind rows of the manure and leftover hay for this composting. Very little labor involved, great place to grow earth worms, actually reduces the number of flies that hatch out in wet hay and straw.

1 comment:

George W said...

Here is a subject I go wild for...

When a horse or mower or whatever clips off grass... it sheds root below the soil horizon in proportion to the height of the plant above the horizon... this is why a lawn has two inhes of root and bad compaction... let that grass get up above average heiht amd grow to full expression... then graze or harvest it. I have a poor area of soil in my lawn which is growi g to max height now... will be harvested for hay... but will get chickems amd maybe sheep grazed across it next year... then be allowed to fully express again... let the soil grow... add that organic matter by the root shed, and nitrogen from the critters across it.
Then it will get a tall stem grass... wheat or oats.... for a truly deep root structure.

Perennial wheats and oats have a particularly deep root system when allowed to grow to maturity, they will perform the same function as daikons or other root crops.

A comprehensive pasture rotation will mimic as closely as possible the movement of a herd of bison across a prarie.... eat all the good... trample the rest into compost.. amd leave manure, which is then processed by various pasture sanitizers... birds amd bugs and whatnot... dung beetles are critcal... earthworms.... chickens are an obvious choice... turkeys are great, as they will take up to forty percent of their diet from pasture. (wild turkey is some of the best tasting meat you an obtain in terms of poultry... pastured turkey can come close...)
The trick to building soil natually is that grass/herbivore/omnivore cycle... each applied at the right time for the correct length of time with appropriate rest periods in between.
One often has to compromise a perfect solution in this... but it is still true, grass is the most efficient means of converting sunlight into soil... Brush and woody plants is next... followed by trees.

A small four acre pasture I care for, when I got it, was weedy garbage... pigweed, wiregrass and dock... and lots of wild carrot. It was treated as a lawn... u til I bagan constructively ignoring it and mowing it... tall... about twice a year.. two years later it is decemt pasture... few weeds (except spring buttercups) and a broader range of forbs are present. I have added no fertilizer at all. Nor have I seeded it... mow and forget... sometimes leaving nature alone for a bit is the right answer... with occasional nudges.

One thumb rule I have read about what kind of grass to plant... is to plant what grows in roadside ditches... it will thrive in your area.

What vibrant pasture management can do for your livestock.... is to help them thrive... what it can do for the planet is that it an save the planet , and feed all of us.

It is literally true, that if all grazed land were managed by mob stocking, intense, rapid rotational grazing, and multispeciation... we could sequester all... ALL... of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere and watersheds since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

Those huge deserts where Eden was purported to be... The cradle of civilization.... became desert due to overgrazing and lack of intelligent management of soil. amd water... those deserts are man made.... these simple techniques could bring them back.... and could have prevented the climate shift in the first place.

Why are we doing the same thing with monocrop battery agriculture today?

Another critical failure to learn from the mistakes of others.