As horse owners, and even on the smallest of properties, we sometimes forget we are grass and forage farmers for our horses. Whether you have grazing pastures to manage, you are growing or just buying hay and roughage, it helps to get know your grasses and legumes.
MB Equine - Property & Pastures
Series: Pastures for Horses
Part 2 of the series on pastures for horses. As horse owners, and even on the smallest of properties, we sometimes forget that we are grass and forage farmers for our horses. Whether you manage grazing pastures or agist your horses, it helps to know more about grasses and legumes.
This article focuses on grasses classed as C4, warm season or tropical grasses that were introduced to Australia and are now commonly found in pastures. Despite their tropical name, some of these grasses also grow in cooler, temperate areas. This is Part 3 of Mairette van den Berg's series Pastures For Horses.
When European settlers first arrived in Australia, grasslands and grassy woodlands covered much of the continent. Many of the explorers referred to grasses as the dominant plants in the landscape.
While many people begin to explore ways to make farming more sustainable and others think of the lifestyle choices they can make to help save the planet, the question is can horse owners be part of the solution instead of adding to the problems? To introduce this new series of articles, we ask Mariette van den Berg, an equine nutritionist, pasture and permaculture design consultant about equine permaculture, a new movement that aims to integrate the principles of permaculture with other sustainable farming strategies that can be implemented on horse properties, however large or small.
In the previous edition we discussed the essence of planning and why it’s important to evaluate regularly various aspects of our lives - including finances, land use, pasture, grazing, horse training, breeding etc. To create the quality of life we envision for ourselves we need to have a plan - regardless if you are just running a private property (household) or you own a (horse) business.
Land Planning is a process for planning and developing the infrastructure (fencing, water, handling facilities, etc.) on properties small or large acreage. Implementation of the plan will likely take many years. Whether you have well-developed infrastructure or not, you need to plan its ideal layout and gradually work toward it, as time and money allow. This will enable you to move toward your holistic goal more quickly, while increasing management efficiency and reducing overall costs.
Holistic Grazing Planning, is a grazing planning procedure that helps you get your animals to the right place at the right time and for the right reasons. Although it has been primarily developed for livestock operations, the principles can be adapted to the management of horses and pastures on properties. The Holistic Grazing Planning procedure uses an aide memoire (French for memory aid), a “cheat sheet” developed by military planners to help simplify complex and ever-changing situations to produce desired outcomes.
In the wild, the horse adapted to eating prairie (low-quality) grasses in semi-arid regions and travelling significant distances each day in order to obtain adequate nutrition. In addition, predators that hunt them would push them along, so generally wild horse populations would never stay at one place for a long time. In an open environment, horses will move along while grazing, which means that in general they only disturb and foul the ground for a small period of time. Grazed areas have time to recover over the season.
Overgrazing and over-resting pastures are common problems on horse properties, which result in ‘horse sick’ pastures with poor quality grasses, accumulation of weeds, compacted and eroded soils, salinity and populations of parasites. To develop an effective grazing plan that can maximise production and improve the health of your horses, you need to understand the growth rate and cycles of grasses and legumes.
Australian researchers investigating the behaviour of domestic horses at pasture have found that, given the opportunity, horses will seek and consume a range of non-pasture species (e.g., parts of trees, woody plants and shrubs). This is the first published data on the behaviour of domesticated horses at pasture and their interaction with the available vegetation.
With thanks to SGS Agriculture & Food Laboratories for providing the analysis specifically for this series. Conserved forages can comprise a large part of the diet of horses; therefore, it is important to review the type and quality of all the roughage we are feeding. Last month, we provided a summary of the roughage sources that are available to horse owners such as hay, chaff, haylage, hay cubes and super fibres.
As horse owners, and even on the smallest of properties, we sometimes forget that we are grass and forage farmers for our horses. Whether you manage grazing pastures or agist your horses, it helps to know more about grasses and legumes. The different types, how they develop and grow, the effect of grazing pressure, what leaf area should remain after grazing and their recovery, all affect pasture management and the health of your horses. When European settlers first arrived in Australia, grasslands and grassy woodlands covered much of the continent.