Along with longer, sunnier days, Spring presents management challenges and opportunities on the horse farm. Melting snow and spring rains can, at the very least, produce muddy pastures and at the very worst create dangerous flooding. New grass growth, rich in nutrients, may be forbidden fruit for your overweight or metabolic horse. Still, with so many sunny days ahead, there’s no better time to evaluate and put together a farm improvement plan! Below are some spring tips to help you get off to a great start:
Keep horses off of early pastures. Snow melt and rain can make for a very wet early spring. Delicate early pasture growth combined with wet sod makes a slick and messy turnout for heavy hooved horses. Horses should be kept off of early spring pastures until the grass reaches at least 8-inches in height and the soil can provide a dry, solid footing for hoof traffic. A sacrifice lot supplied with hay, water and a mineral block will provide some sunshine, nutrition and exercise for your horses without destroying the long term grazing potential of your pasture. For more information on sacrifice lots, read Utilizing a sacrifice/exercise lot for your horse.
Frost seed low quality areas in your pasture. March is the month to frost seed in the Northern part of the country. If your pasture is still frozen with some snow or ice cover, consider frost seeding to improve those areas in your pasture that were sparse in grass cover last summer. Frost seeding involves overseeding pastures while the ground is still frozen and letting the thawing action of the ground draw the seeds into the soil bed. For more information on frost seeding, read Frost Seeding Guidelines.
Improve your pasture with lime or a fertilizer application. Early spring is the perfect time to improve your pasture. Collect a soil sample to evaluate your pasture’s nutrient needs. If your soil is acidic or lacks essential minerals, early spring application at the correct rate of fertilizer or lime will boost your pasture’s productivity, increasing production of quality forage and decreasing weed contamination. For more information on soil samples, read Successful nutrient management begins with soil sampling or contact your local county extension office for more details.
Slowly introduce horses to spring pastures. Spring pastures are high in moisture and nutrients and can be a shock to your horse’s digestive system after a long winter of eating hay. Horses should be introduced to pasture slowly over several weeks to reacquaint their digestive system with green grass. Horses that are overweight, have foundered, or have high blood insulin levels should have pasture access strictly controlled during the entire grazing season. For more information, read the article Managing horses on spring pastures.
Prepare for a dry summer. While many parts of the country are experiencing extreme flooding, we still need to prepare for the possibility of drought this summer. Good spring pasture management will go a long way to prolong the grazing season. Mowing weeds, dragging manure piles and resting pastures to prevent overgrazing during the summer months is paramount to long-term pasture productivity. Rotational grazing may also be a great strategy to increase your horse pasture’s longevity and nutritional quality. For more information, read the article Drought pasture management: During and after.
We are all deeply concerned with the flooding that is creating havoc in much of the Midwest region and other parts of the country. Anyone can be affected at almost any time by extreme weather. Please take some time to work with your neighbors and community to develop an evacuation plan for your family, pets, and livestock. Make sure you have several alternatives, depending on the road conditions. Below are some more resources to help you plan ahead for spring time weather events:
Preparing for a Barn Disaster. This article from the University of Minnesota Extension gives an overview of disaster preparedness for a horse farm.
Flood Injuries in Horses. This article for LSU Ag Center discusses the identification and treatment of injuries and diseases common during flooding.
Giving your horse the best chance during a disaster. This webinar from My Horse University discusses how to prepare for the worst to ensure the best outcome during a disaster on your horse farm.
Printable Forms from My Horse University