Not really what we think of as nice pasture, is it? Not lush, green and uniform, but it has diverse plants, a tremendous amount of long stem fiber and is nutritious. Without a doubt it does not remotely produce the amount of total digestible nutrients that a modern well seeded, fertilized and mowed pasture produces.
However, if one had unlimited land this type pasture would likely be a healthier environment for a horse than a high carbohydrate monoculture pasture. But most of us do not have unlimited pasture so we have to compromise. We work to create as natural a forage system for the horse as can be done on the available land.
That is what I have been working towards for the past fifteen years. During that time I have allowed hundreds of thousands of pounds of hay to go unharvested and completely unused. This summer that will change. This summer we will be taking a step way back into the dawn of livestock husbandry to harvest Pollard hay. (until about two weeks ago I had never heard of it either).
First a point on technology and how it fits into the theory that Pollard hay is likely to have predated pasture hay. All the way through college and law school I worked at Jamestown. Most of that time I worked in the Indian village and became somewhat proficient in stone age technology--the making and use of stone weapons and tools e.g. arrow points, stone knives, scrapers, cutting tools and stone axes. I have had the rare opportunity to have actually used these tools on a regular basis.
I have cut down small trees and delimbed them with stone tools. It is much easier than one would imagine. I have cut reeds and stems of marsh grasses and sedges with stone tools.
It was brutal work.
The mere thought of cutting sufficient grass forage with stone tools to supplement grazing stock, or even worse, to entirely feed them through the winter is enough to make my back hurt and my hands start to cramp up.
But cutting and breaking off tree branches heavily laden with dense, nutritious leaves and stacking those branches to dry is a much easier task. Horses are primarily grazers, but they are also browsers. Modern horse keeping rarely gives horses the opportunity to eat the tender stems and leaves of healthy trees and shrubs.
Wilted leaves of maple and wild cherry are absolutely deadly and should never be fed to livestock.
But most other browse is a real treat for most horses. On the new land that we are clearing out we are leaving several thousand small hardwood stumps. They will produce stems and shoots of forage for the livestock that is referred to as coppice forage. I am also leaving a couple of acres of young ash trees to harvest the tops as Pollard hay in the mid to late summer. Though the practice is nearly unknown in America it is still practiced in small farms in Europe and other parts of the world.
Such "hay" may very well have been the first kind of hay used in significant amounts by our ancestors thousands of years ago. And it took computer technology to teach me this stone age innovation.