Friday, September 19, 2014

Pasture Love

      It's been about 7 weeks now, and we are well under way with all forms of maintenance, repairs and building new things on the farm. But my day to day operations always include some form of pasture maintenance. It's hard work, long hours.. pretty stinky too. But I prioritize it as one of the most important things to be kept up with on the farm.

      Ever see over crowded paddocks with horses standing in a foot of mud? Sick of it?

      Yeah, me too. Because at this point, with all of the information we have on the topic; there is really no excuse for it. Keeping a pasture full of green grass, shrubs and the right mix of sand, gravel and dirt is so important for the health of our horses.

Why is it so important?

1) Parasite Control
      Your worming program is only as good as your poop maintenance plan. You can deworm your horses all you want, but if you aren't actively removing that poop from their dinner plates; you are just proliferating the issue. Most dewormers don't actually "kill" parasites/worms when you deworm your horse; they most often than not are used to cause the worms to leave your horse's system instead. That means when they poop out those worms, they are still alive. And some are still very capable of laying more eggs, or infecting your horse all over again. These worms need to be exposed to the heat of the sun, or removed from the pasture altogether and left to bake in a compost pile.

What do we do at NRE?
      We pick and clean the paddocks from manure on a weekly basis. We are lucky enough to have a gator vehicle with a self dumping bucket on the back. So we drive into the paddocks, scoop up the poops with pitch forks (yes, labour intensive but soooo worth it) and then go dump everything in our manure pile/compost pile.

2) Horses don't eat poop covered grass
      Ever notice that if you leave your horses out in a pasture long enough for them to eat all of the grass up, that some spots get left over grown? They avoid those areas like the plague. And for good reason. That's their washroom! They urinate and leave their poops there. They have their own natural instincts built in to avoid those areas because that's where parasites live; waiting for a hungry mouth to nom them up and give them a new warm home. This is another important reason to remove manure from your paddocks, so that all of the grass has a chance to be rid of parasites, and so the horses can rotate their "washroom" areas and have full access to all of the yummy grass in the field.
      Another great idea after removing the poops from these areas is to give them a good weed whack or mow. Not too short, but enough that anything lingering in the moist tall grass has a chance to dry out. This is a great area for mold to form, and if horses are left to their own devices without another source of food. They will turn to eat these areas if the other areas have been eaten down to roots. Forcing a horse to eat molding grass and parasites isn't the best way to create a healthy environment.

What do we do at NRE?
      Depending on the time of year, the grass grows at different rates. But just about every other week we'll go out after removing poop piles and run the mower over the long parts in the pastures. Especially effective to do this on a hot dry day.

3) Mud.
      Poop build up creates mud. It kills grass... that mixed with the ground moving hooves of your horses; creates perfect areas for mud to set up camp. This happens especially fast to those who have too many horses in their paddocks, or who setup their paddocks so everything the horse needs is in on tiny little area.
      Remember that not ALL mud is bad either, some mud is good. Horses love to roll in mud to help cool off, and to keep the bugs off. It's a natural part of their grooming behaviour, so leave a good rolling spot for them.

What do we do at NRE?
      Keep herd numbers smaller, and have the option to rotate paddocks to give each pasture time to heal and regrow. It's important to keep an eye on the grazing fields so as to not allow the horses to kill the grass by eating too much of the blades. When the grass is short enough that it starts to burn, you need to give it some time off.
      Put your water trough far away from your shelter, and your salt blocks far away from those too. Your horses should be moving around a lot, every day. If you put everything close together, they are going to congregate there and too much movement in the one area will kick up the ground and become mud.
      Get some sand and gravel in your paddocks. Not only is this great for your horses bare feet, but it's also great to keep water from pooling into muddy areas. Gravel is best placed along fence lines that show a lot of wear from horse paths, around water troughs, feeding troughs and around your shelters. Sand is also a great spot for rolling off those itchy spots. I like to leave one big spot with just clean sand for the horses to play in. They love it!

4) Weeds
      Not all weeds are bad, and not all weeds are good. Make sure you do your research so you can recognize a bad weed from a good one. Horses like and need variety in their diet; and weeds and shrubs are a great way to allow them this freedom of choice to eat. Bad weeds need to be removed by the root, and left to dry in the sun out of the paddocks and then burnt in a safe manner. Good weeds can be kept under control by regular mowing and weed whacking; or with the use of other paddock companions like donkeys and goats.

     So what can I say? These are just a few of our happy horses, in their happy pastures!

Anyone have some pictures of their own happy pasture buddies to share?

Keep on keepin' on!


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