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Grazing management tips for equines

Posted in Management

With grass comprising the main part of your horse’s diet, looking after your grazing is essential. Pasture management expert Garry Holter has 12 top tips to ensure your horse has the best grazing you can offer him…

1 Check your paddock machinery has suitable tyres. Many machines have chelated tyres (below), but with these you run the risk of damaging your turf and it can be expensive to put right. Instead, look out for turf tyres that spread the weight of the machine over a large area and do minimal, if any, damage, yet still provide the grip required to drag a harrow or aerator.

2 Harrow your fields yearly to remove the dead material that accumulates on the surface. The dead material prevents water, light and new seeds from reaching the soil, and strangles the existing and newly germinated plants. Aerate the fields after harrowing to allow bad gases such as hydrogen sulphide and methane out, and good gases such as oxygen in.

3 The best way to repair damaged areas around gates and watertroughs is with a plastic mesh-type product. The types that are pinned down are the most effective, and once it’s installed it can be filled with topsoil and sown with a good-quality grass mixture. It will reinforce the ground and once the grass has grown over, it will hardly be seen.

4  Rotation is vital if you want to have grass in the field to feed your horse. It is difficult if you only have one field, but build a plan of rotation for the year stating where your horse is going to graze and when, and stick to it.

5 There are many different types of fertiliser that you can buy ready to use or you can make your own. To do this, collect up your horse’s manure and cover it with tarpaulin. The heat generated by the process kills all worm eggs and worms that affect horses. Properly composted horse poo should look like soil, then a thin layer can be applied to the field. Horses should not be allowed to graze on newly-fertilised paddocks.

6  Turning your horse out at night will stop him being bothered by flies, but grasses are not photosynthesising (making materials for growth and development). Night grazing might affect the way the grass grows, so the best times to turn out are late afternoon until sunset, and from sunrise to early morning.

7 Willow trees can provide shelter and when eaten they can provide pain relief, but more  importantly, willows are effective at removing water from the soil. They are the easiest tree to plant – just stick a green twig of willow into the ground and you have a new tree!

8 Use biodiversity to attract useful predatory animals. Planting hedges and willows provides habitats for birds and predatory insects who attack and eat many species of insects that bother horses. A pond will attract dragonflies who are looking for insects, and growing plants such as wild garlic in the field will deter flies, much like adding garlic to your horse’s feed.

9 You can significantly increase water drainage from the land by having a ditch system. Ditches are expensive to dig and maintain, but they allow horses to be turned out in winter and prevent damage that occurs when the ground becomes waterlogged.

10 The safest type of fencing is post-and-rail. It lasts a long time and shouldn’t need treating. Avoid any type of metal mesh fencing, as the results can be devastating when a horse puts it’s foot through it. Electric fencing is a quick, easy and cost-effective way to temporarily divide up a field, but make sure it is safely and securely erected.

11 Hedges provide a natural way to divide your fields up, a place for birds and other animals to establish territories, and a form of field shelter. Every foot of height provides up to 10ft of shelter from the wind – a 6ft tall hedge protects horses up to 60ft away from the hedge. There may even be funding available from your local council or the Government to help you create hedges cheaply.

12 Ragwort should be dug up and burnt, and remember to wear gloves when handling it. Docks and similar plants can be cut down to expose the fleshy root, then push a few salt pellets into the root. The salt draws the water out and kills it by dehydration. Buttercups can be dealt with by harrowing.

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January 2018

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