Are your pastures developing bare spots where horses are grazing the grass down so short it dies? When grass is grazed too much – below about 3 inches in height – it loses its nutritional quality, and even begins to die. Rotational grazing can help to prevent this, preserving and even improving the quality of your pastures.
How Rotational Grazing Can Help
When you implement rotational grazing, you are creating a system by which you rotate the areas in your pasture that your horses can access. By keeping horses off of particular areas, you allow the grass to grow back again. As you move your horses from area to area, they have access to fresh grass, while the previous areas they were on have a chance to recover.
Dividing Up Your Pastures
In order to implement rotational grazing, you will either need multiple pastures or will need to divide up a large pasture. Rotational grazing works best when you have 5 or 6 different areas to rotate your horses onto. You may also need a sacrifice area, which is a separate paddock where you can keep your horses when none of the rotational grazing areas are ready.
In order to easily divide up a larger pasture, many horse owners use electric fencing. It is easy to adjust pasture orientation and size, so you can customize your sacrifice pastures as you learn about your horses’ grazing patterns and the grass’ recovery. You may need to experiment a bit with the number of sacrifice areas until you find the right setup for your farm, and electric fencing is a good choice during this period.
How to Implement Rotational Grazing
Wait until grass in one of your fields has reached 6 to 8 inches in height, then turn your horses out in that area. Once the grass is grazed down to 3 inches in height, it is time to move your horses to the next grazing area. Ideally, by the time that you have rotated your horse through all of the grazing areas, the first area will have recovered, and you can begin the cycle again.
The grass will take between 2 and 3 weeks to regrow during the spring, so you will need plenty of areas to rotate your horses onto. How quickly your horses graze down each area will depend on the area’s size and the number of horses that it supports.
A Note About the Late Summer and Fall
During the summer and fall, the growth rate of grass slows down. Rather than being able to put your horses back into pastures after 2 or 3 weeks, you may have to wait 7 or 8 weeks for the grass to recover. In this case, a sacrifice paddock is necessary.
A sacrifice paddock is a smaller area which is sacrificed in order to keep your main pastures in optimum condition. Sacrifice paddocks are often dry lots, but provide you with a place to keep your horses when your pastures are unusable. Once your grass pastures have recovered, you can return your horses to your rotational grazing pattern.
Preserving Your Pastures
Rotational grazing is an excellent way to preserve the quality of your pastures. Preventing overgrazing can help ensure that your pastures produce nutritional grass for your horses to enjoy all season long.