Multi-Species Grazing for Weed Control in Horse Pastures

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Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

“Grazing habits and vegetative preferences of sheep and goats are different than horses; they eat many of the weeds that horses won’t eat,” said J.D. Green, Extension Weed Scientist, University of Kentucky.

“Cattle can be rotated with horses or grazed with them, but their grazing preferences are more similar to horses. They may not eat as many of the weeds you are trying to get rid of as do sheep and goats,” said Green.

Rotating either sheep or goats through your horse pastures enables you to target some of the weedy species that horses won’t graze. Some horse owners make arrangements with friends or neighbors to borrow or pasture someone else’s sheep or goats periodically for weed control. This can be an option for people who don’t want to use herbicides, and is a form of biological control, using another living thing to reduce the unwanted plants.

“Regardless of what options you utilize, you won’t get rid of all the weeds. If used strategically, however, you can bring the weeds down to a more manageable level so they don’t encroach so thickly into your pastures.It all comes down to how you manage those areas,” said Green.

“You are not just managing the animals. You also have to manage the areas in which they are grazing,” he explained. To optimize feed for your horses and have a productive pasture, you need to look at the whole picture and view it in terms of pasture management rather than animal management.

This might mean doing things a little differently, and doing more with what you have. “This is often the biggest dilemma for the people who don’t have much pasture; they may have only a few animals, but not quite enough pasture.”

In these situations you may need to confine the horses part of the time, letting them graze for only a few hours each day, and/or rotate the pasture area using portable electric fencing to graze a small area briefly and then more on. This way you can make sure the pasture is not overgrazed and has a chance to regrow before being grazed again.

Rotational grazing works, even in a small area, moving the horses around it and always letting each piece recover before grazing it again. Good pasture management is often our best tool against invasive weeds.

“There are different ways to manage weeds in these pasture areas. The best control is accomplished by integrating several different management tools and not trying to rely just on one—and using sheep and/or goats in a rotational program is often very helpful,” he said.