Friday, April 30, 2010

Mow, mow, mow your pasture

When you have your horses at home you end up spending more time maintaining, repairing, feeding, cleaning and building than you actually do riding.

I'd say I put in four hours of farm work for every one hour I ride.

But I'm not complaining...I love it and would have it no other way! I love looking at my shiny, plump, healthy, happy horses in a safe, secure home and know that I did that, no one else. Me. Just me.

Sure, it can be a pain in the butt when I really, really want to ride and the weather is perfect, but when that fence in the upper pasture needs tightening or the pasture needs mowed, the work comes first and the horses watch with knowing little grins on their faces.

The herd has been out on our three acre pasture for about a month now and it was time to mow and rotate. When the grass is good I don't have to feed hay at all, which is so nice on the checkbook!

But keeping good pastures requires intensive maintenance and conscientious rotation.


Well, the simple answer is: Horses are jerks who can't eat down a pasture efficiently.

The long answer is: Horses will eat their favorite grasses/legumes first and eat them down to the dirt. Once they do that, you might as well forget about having a decent pasture because down to the dirt grass/legumes gives weeds an excellent opportunity to move in and take up residence. And they do it faster than you can say "weed 'n feed!"

A horse pasture has "roughs" and "greens."

Roughs are where they poo and they won't eat where they go if they have any choice at all. Greens are where they graze the field down to nothing. If you don't mow the roughs and spread the poo around they will never graze there...ever. And the beautiful green grass will just grow and grow and grow as they greens turn into bare, weedy patches.

So, you end up with a "lumpy" pasture...swaths of grass eaten down to the dirt with weeds moving in and patches where the grass is gorgeous and the horses avoid like the plague. At some point the grasses start developing seed heads...and as soon as that happens the grass begins losing a significant amount of nutrition. And what's the point of having horses on pasture if they aren't getting the nutrients they need from it?

That's when you mow and rotate. Keeping it mowed keeps it nutritious and keeps the weeds to a minimum.

Some people like to mow it tall, 6" or so. I mow short, 3.5" to 4" because I like to spread the poo with the mower and knock down as many grasses with seed heads as I can. And I get immense amount of satisfaction when I obliterate the weeds. I've been known to laugh wickedly as the thick, green leaves of a patch of curly dock go flying in little pieces. I HATE CURLY DOCK! HATRED. And it is so hard to get rid of and is hell on the grasses.

Plus, I just really, really like the look of a nicely mowed field. It gives me warm fuzzies.

Last night I mowed the three acre takes about an hour, maybe a little more depending on how tall I've allowed the roughs to become. The roughs were pretty thick and I was flinging poo EVERYWHERE! Take that, greens, have a little obliterated poo!

This morning I opened the gate to our other pasture, another four acre field that is chock full of good, thick, green grasses. They haven't been on that field yet this year. We have clover, alfalfa, orchard grass, timothy, fescue and brome in the field and very, very few weeds. It's LOVELY! The horses barely got through the gate before they dropped heads and tucked in with gusto. Nom nom nom! Grass is GOOD!

Yes. We have fescue. We have LOTS of fescue. Fescue is a good, hardy grass that is drought and stress tolerant and is perfectly suitable and nutritious for horses. It's just not good to feed if you are running pregnant mares. Which I don't and will NEVER have.

I'll keep them off the small pasture for about a month...then mow the field they are on now and rotate them back onto the small pasture. I have two more chunks of pasture (another 3-4 acre field and a 2 acre field) that I need to get fenced this summer. I can't wait to have more pastures to rotate, because the longer I can rest pastures between rotations, the better the grasses will be in the long run.

When we moved to our farm four years ago the pasture was nothing but tall, tall weeds. Some sections of the pasture had weeds that were taller than ME! The previous owner did NOT maintain them at all and did not rotate. It was just one big field surrounded by rusty, sagging barbed wire

I removed all the wire and all the posts and got to work getting the pasture horse-ready. It has taken four years to get these fields to the point where they CAN support three horses as a main food source during the summer and not end up looking like a barren wasteland. I must say, they are gorgeous now. Gorgeous.

But it takes a lot of attention to details, a lot of work and diligent pasture rotation to have beautiful pastures. Yes, I even go out there and walk the pastures, pulling up weeds by hand, filling in holes, looking for poisonous plants and kicking poo piles to spread them between mowings.

It's work I enjoy and it makes every hour in the saddle that much more precious.

But watching my horses knee deep in a lush field stuffing their faces with good food?



  1. Sounds remarkable, like only the midwest can! I remember helping tend those huge burn piles when you first moved in. You have done an awesome job with your piece of paradise! Now, here it is just a waiting game until we turn all 'golden' again. The cowboy does have a plan for affordable pasture irrigation in the next year or two, after the rest of the 'must-do's get done.

  2. I think I feel the same way that you do about the work associated with having horses in your back yard. It is a lot of work but it is so worth it!
    It sounds like all of your hard work is beginning to pay off in lush pastures. Good for you!
    I guess I should step away from the computer and go put in a few hours on weed patrol!

  3. horses make a pasture a home... g-d bless e'm

  4. Amen to your 1st paragraph. And amen to #3 also. It's a lot of work, but I too find joy in keeping such big animals healthy and happy. Great post on pasture maintenance. Your farm sounds wonderful with the different pastures. We have a small (3 acre) pasture that we've cross fenced for rotation. Some say cross fencing is a waste of time on such a small pasture. Others say every little bit helps. We do what we can. We have it mowed to 4" in June usually. Seems like the grass is growing slow this year...but it is still pretty chilly here.

  5. Some day...I will join you on this work brigade of maintain the perfect balance! I fight for less poison and more mowing...I have not won yet...the mower is borrowed...darn it and if that were not the case...whoo wee..I'd be riding that too!
    Good post Jenn!