Horse Pasture Management Blog 2
- May 3, 2015
- Leigh Kelley
Picture taken April 2015
If you live and own livestock or grazing animals in the Northwest than you will probably be able to relate to the desire for a slightly longer growing season. Imagine residual grass as your large scale range greenhouse for proper horse pasture management.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The pasture on the right was bare at the end of the grazing season with grass <1” in height. This grass is struggling to thrive during the cool early growing season. Had residual forage been present the grass on the right would be keeping pace with the grass on the left.
One of the questions we asked in last month’s blog was, “How does residual grass assist in capturing the most snow melt and reducing run off?” Now that you have your mind around residual grass acting as a thermal blanket lets also imagine that forage acting as a sponge. When water droplets fall onto bare soil water bounces and rolls off. When water comes rushing across bare soil during spring run-off the water is lost and sediment; dirt, organic matter, nutrients, animal waste, etc. is also flushed out with the run-off. However, grass left standing will act as a sponge and soak up all forms of precipitation more effectively. Grass will also acts as a filter by working to capture sediment and all of its various contents. More on this in BlOG 3
Thus far, we have learned two important things:
- Residual forage will accelerate snow melt off and allow for earlier spring green up and corresponding earlier horse turnout.
- Leaving forage standing at the end of the fall/winter grazing season will allow for better water absorption, less run-off, less evaporation and retintion of precious soil and its many nutrients
Now let’s look a little deeper into this. Underneath the grass on your property is an entire little world of microbes. Healthy grass lends to healthy soil. Healthy soil lends to healthy microbe population. Healthy microbes work to break down chemicals, pathogens and diminish parasite life cycle. By allowing your pastures rest in a rest rotation grazing system you remove the host animal for a periods of time that parasites and pathogens can not sustain without a host animal. The other benefit to a healthy pasture that we haven’t discussed is that when you allow forage to reach its optimum grazing height it is often times reaching its optimum nutrient value. Keeping your pastures in optimum grazing condition means you are providing your equine parnters with optimum nutrients from your grass.
Take a look at the picture below and study the grass height. This photo was taken standing in the “left pasture” as we have refered to it. The pasture that we have been refering to as the “right pasture” is across the fence line.
Can you see last years brown grass nestled down in all the new growth? There it is hard at work trying to warm the soil, help the microbes thrive and provide a jumpstart to the spring growing season. It isn’t a lot of last years forage but it is enough to do the trick. Too much residual can have ill effects as well.
Photo taken April 2015
Thanks for watching the grass grow with me!
About Leigh Kelley
My internship through Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo sent me to the mountains of Montana where I married a Montana cowboy and where we now raise our two little ranch kids. I have a had the good fortune to see some very productive and intacted...