Ask the Author: Horse Pasture Management

By: , Posted on: December 15, 2020

We (virtually) sat down with Horse Pasture Management (2018) editor Paul Sharpe to discuss his book including common pasture management mistakes and solutions, potential climate and regional impacts on pastures, and a possible 2nd edition.

What are some of your favorite chapters, and why they are so valuable to the reader?

“Identification of Pasture Grasses and Legumes” (Chapter 2) is a favorite because horse managers can start to have conversations about their pastures once they can recognize and compare the plants in different micro-environments.

“Forage Yield and Its Determination” (Chapter 7) is a favorite because this is a totally new concept to many horse owners. While many can count bales of hay, they seldom have a good idea of how much feed is on a pasture.

“Managing Equine Grazing for Pasture Productivity” (Chapter 9) is the core of the book which brings together elements of several other chapters and helps readers understand why they should divide a total pasture into smaller blocks and provide rest for the most valuable plants.

“Fencing and Watering Systems” (Chapter 15) points out advantages and disadvantages of most common fencing materials, to help horse managers accomplish the pasture divisions recommended in the Managing Grazing chapter and make wise choices in their fencing investments. Many different approaches to providing good quality water in all horse paddocks can help horse managers decide which options will be economical and labor-saving choices for their farms.

“University of Kentucky Horse Pasture Evaluation Program” (Chapter 18) describes the ultimate in pasture management analysis and assistance, in the heart of Kentucky horse country. This reveals the types of analyses and consultations that horse managers and horse owners can apply when trying to make life better for horses.

Are there any common mistakes horse managers make, why are they considered mistakes, and are the solutions offered in the book?

The most common horse management mistake regarding pastures is to put all of the horses in your care onto one area of pasture for the whole grazing season. This practice of “continuous grazing” causes overgrazing of the most palatable and productive plants, eventually weakening and killing many of them. The look of a typical pasture is of a very short lawn with a few tall weeds and some patches of rather tall productive forage that is not grazed because it is used as a defecation area. Places that are subject to most of the horse hoof action (and thus appear as bare soil) are near gates, fences and sources of feed or water that people bring to them. Solutions are offered in the Managing Equine Grazing chapter and the reasons for those solutions are explained in other chapters, such as the Grazing Behavior, Feed Intake and Feed Choices chapter.

A mistake closely related to continuous grazing is providing too little pasture area per horse. Many people have no idea how much pasture and thus how much feed should be provided for each horse and that this depends on soil fertility, amount of rainfall, forage plant yields, forage plant growth rates and length of the growing season. Methods are described for determining forage yields in one chapter and horse forage needs are addressed in other chapters. Using forage yield and forage needs, one can calculate numbers of acres of pasture needed.

Failure to provide adequate time for grazed forage plants to photosynthesize, recover and regrow to a point where they are storing energy is another mistake related to the others. This mistake results from a lack of knowledge of how forage plants grow, mature, recover from grazing and store energy. This background knowledge is found in three chapters: “Forage Plant Structure, Function, Nutrition and Growth” (Chapter 1); “Introduction to Pasture Ecology” (Chapter 5); and “Pasture Plant Establishment and Management” (Chapter 6).

Does climate and region have any impact?

Yes, climate and region have significant impacts on how horse pastures should be managed. That is why the book contains a chapter called “Climate, Weather and Plant Hardiness” (Chapter 12) and another called “Matching Plant Species to Your Environment, Weather and Climate” (Chapter 13). Forage species vary in their adaptability to amount of rainfall, typical high temperatures, typical low temperatures and extremes of these variables. Within species, different genetic varieties (cultivars) allow pasture managers to select seeds of species and varieties most appropriate for their environment and management. Management decisions such as when to start grazing, when to stop grazing and when to cut surplus forage for hay can be altered according to climate and region.

Does your book touch upon any new trends in horse management?

This book uses a blend of well-known and new findings. Chapter 3, “Nutritional Value of Pasture Plants for Horses”, covers basic nutritional needs as determined by the size, age, metabolic status and level of work of horses. The chapter on “Pasture-Related Diseases and Disorders” (Chapter 16) expands upon some of this nutritional information to explain how to prevent and manage conditions such as laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, some pulmonary diseases and some conditions caused by toxic plants including seasonal pasture myopathy and liver disease (chronic megalocytic hepatopathy).

Equine behavior and welfare is a growing and important field aimed at improving the quality of life for horses. The chapter on “Grazing Behavior, Feed Intake and Feed Choices” (Chapter 8) includes findings from experiments with a variety of herbivores to help horse pasture managers understand why and how horses make feed choices. Recommendations are made to always provide adequate forage heights so that horses can fill their daily requirements for forage dry matter, energy and protein within a moderate number of hours and a moderate number of bites per day. Good quality water in every paddock within a reasonable walking distance and shelter from extreme weather are also recommended.

We have discussed a second edition for this… perhaps you could mention some plans you have for this?

A second edition is in the planning stage. Possible new chapters include:

  • Weed Identification and Control
  • Toxic Plant Identification
  • Practical Management Considerations for Four Different Geographic and Climatic Zones of North America
  • Features of Forage Species for Warm Climates and Europe
  • Incorporating Annual crops in Horse Grazing Rotations
  • Ideas for High Use Pads adjacent to Pastures and Sacrifice Paddock design

Ready to read this book?

Horse Pasture Management is available now on ScienceDirect. Or purchase your own copy from the bookstore and save 30% + get free shipping with promo code STC30.

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