Dedicating time and effort to spring pasture maintenance will reward you with high-quality grazing the rest of the year.
“Early spring is the best time to be proactive about issues that otherwise can become a bigger, more expensive problem to manage,” said Karla Melgar, MSc, small acreage management specialist, front range region for Colorado State University Extension. “As soon as grasses begin to deteriorate, it takes more effort to bring it back to its most optimum state.”
As you’re waiting for spring to arrive, consider these pasture maintenance strategies to maximize forage growth on your farm.
Wait to graze: It can be tempting to allow horses to graze at the first sight of green grass, but if you can be patient with grazing and rest pastures, the plants will provide ample nutrition for your horses all grazing season. Wait for 6-8 inches of grass growth before gradually transitioning your horses to grazing. Use a sacrifice or dry-lot to turn horses out until then, said Laura Kenny, MS, equine educator at Penn State Extension.
“Keep horses off the pasture until grass has started to grow back,” she said. “Winter and early spring grazing damages forage plants and soil structure, especially when soils are wet, and it will take longer for the plants to come back in the spring.”
Evaluate your pastures: “It’s important to walk around the property and identify any unwanted plants and choose the right control method, whether it is pre- or post- emergence herbicides or cultural practices like targeted grazing,” said Melgar. “Make sure fences are in a good state, and check for spots of bare soil and rutted or compacted areas.”
Review your grazing plan: Pastures should have time to rest and regrow to provide the most nutritional value.
“Rotational grazing involves subdividing larger pastures into smaller ones that are grazed one at a time,” Kenny added. “By the time each pasture has been grazed, the first one in the rotation should have had a few weeks to regrow and be ready for another grazing.”
Conduct a soil test: “Just as your horse needs optimal nutrition to thrive and perform, so do your pasture forages,” Kenny said. “The soil test results will tell you about your soil’s acidity and fertility, what you can apply to fix it (such as lime and fertilizer), and how often.”
Overseed bare spots: Plan to reseed or overseed bare spots early to give grass a chance to start, but wait until the ground is not frozen to allow seeds access to more moisture when the temperatures rise.
“Reseeding areas of high traffic may seem like a lost battle, and plants might never be as vigorous as the rest of the field,” said Melgar. “Keeping these parts of the field covered with grass reduces the chances of weeds growing and expanding from that area to other healthy parts of the pasture.”
Pamper Pastures Year Round
Spring is the most common time of year to think about pasture maintenance. However, it takes year-round attention to get the best results.
“The important thing to remember is that pasture management should always be on your mind, not just in the spring because there are different considerations during each season,” Kenny said.