Article by Jamie A. Cohen | University of Florida, IFAS/Marion County Extension Service
Recently, I visited a lovely farm that utilized a “sacrifice paddock”. This is a small, fenced-in part of the farm that is heavily used, causing it to become bare, thus allowing the rest of the farm to maintain good grass. I have come across other farms utilizing a similar area and, although it is not often discussed, a sacrifice paddock can be beneficial to the horse, the farm and the environment.
A sacrifice paddock is usually devoid of grass.
Horses are often confined in sacrifice areas due to situations like: allowing limited grazing for the health of the animal, saving pasture grass, or perhaps because the horse is recovering from an injury, where rest and limited turnout is required. This paddock can also be beneficial for bad-footed horses that need to be kept off the morning dew. Often times, roofed, but open structures (usually called “loafing pens”) are also built in the sacrifice area, allowing for cover from the harsh sun and/or rain.
A three sided shed allows horses shelter from sun, bugs and harsh weather.
Regardless of the reason, the sacrifice area can actually be the “greenest” part of the farm, if managed properly. If an interest in setting-up a pasture well suited for this purpose arises, first determine the lay of the farm’s land. The area should be kept far from any natural water bodies and placed in a high, dry location. Any remaining grass will be eliminated quickly because of excessive wear and grazing. If the pocketbook allows, mixing in additional footing, like shredded rubber or wood chips, or some other material is a good consideration to help improve the footing. Careful management will be essential to eliminating a big mess and creating future excessive runoff. If composting is done on-site, the composted material can also be used to mix in with the soil. Adding compost will help take up water and stop some unwanted drainage and erosion.
If the sacrifice paddock will be near the barn, be sure that any rain gutters or roof runoff doesn’t drain directly onto the bare ground because the rain will definitely cause erosion and sediment to wash into the aquifer during a storm. Planting additional ground cover around the sacrifice paddock can do a great job in helping to alleviate potential runoff; grass, trees and shrubs, or any vegetation should be acceptable; it’s just as important to help keep the loose dirt and footing in the paddock so it won’t all be washed away, leaving the farm with a mess and an unusable area that may end up being expensive and difficult to fix.
Planting native plants is highly recommended because they will do the best job for the farm since they are already acclimated to an area’s climate, further helping to reduce any additional fertilizer and/or pesticide requirements. And an added bonus of the newly added trees, shrubs and plants is that it may promote native birds by providing a source of food, cover and a nesting ground for young. Your neighbors will also thank you for not creating lots of runoff onto their yards.
Once the sacrifice area is ready, it can be easily maintained and kept fresh by picking manure regularly out of the paddock. Frequent dragging and/or rolling will also help to maintain the paddock’s footing. Installing a hay bin, (which should be moved around often) prevents horses from ingesting sand while still allowing them to mimic a natural pattern of often nibbling small meals.
Picking out small paddocks helps reduce the parasite load as well as help prevent muddy footing over time.
Go ahead and try a sacrifice paddock on your farm. The grass, horses and water will thank you. As always, keep up the good management practices!