Rotational Grazing in Horse Pastures

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Credit: Thinkstock The rotational grazing system had higher pasture heights than the continuous system.

Credit: Thinkstock The rotational grazing system had higher pasture heights than the continuous system.

Rotational grazing is often recommended, but not widely adopted, by horse farms. The objective of this research, conducted at Rutgers University, was to compare the effects of rotational and continuous grazing systems on horse health and pasture performance.

Two continuous and two rotational grazing systems were established. Rotational systems were divided into four paddocks and a drylot. Twelve mature mares were used with 3 horses in each system for a stocking rate of 1.3 acres per horse. Horse condition was assessed by monthly body weight and body condition score. Pasture performance was assessed monthly by estimating vegetative cover and pasture height. When housed in the dry lot or during the winter months, horses were fed grass hay fed and a concentrate to meet nutritional requirements.

Out of 184 days, horses in the rotational systems grazed 97 days. Grazing system had no effect on horse condition; however body condition score was highest in September and November and lowest in January. Pasture height differed between months and grazing system. Except for one month (November), the rotational system had higher pasture heights than the continuous system. Ground cover consisted of a higher percent of grasses and lower percent of bare ground in the rotational system compared to the continuous system. Researchers expect to see more differences between grazing systems during future grazing season. For more information, click here.

Summarized by Michelle DeBoer, University of Minnesota. Receive more information from the university by subscribing to its horse newsletter.