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Keeping horses at pasture

30 Sep 2019 10:46 PM | Jennie Curtis (Administrator)

Horsewoman Helena Warren from Cadfor Equestrian and Murray Greys shared her expertise with a group of participants over a two-day workshop in 2019.

This project received grant funding from the Australian Government through the National Landcare Program

Key points

Pastures for horses

  • When planning your horse property, think about ways to minimise runoff and nutrient loss. This can include locating horse infrastructure away from water courses, fencing along contours, rotational grazing, using windbreaks and installing vegetation buffers. A two-metre fenced wind break can provide adequate ground cover to prevent significant erosion and water loss.
  • According to Helena, reseeding a pasture from scratch is a three year process that takes a lot of planning including soil testing, managing weeds, planting a break crop and final seeding. Refer to the DPI Primefact on Pastures for Horses for more information. When the cost of pasture establishment is compared to the ongoing cost of supplementary feeding, fertilising and maintaining pasture becomes financially viable.
  • Being able to assess your horse’s condition score and weight is a useful tool for feeding management and worming. The amount of feed a horse requires depends on their weight, activity, growth stage and body condition. The NSW DPI Primefact 928Estimating a horses condition and weight gives a step by step guide on how to do this.
  • For optimum feed production, perennial grasses should be rested (ideally at the flowering stage) to allow them to develop their basal buds and roots. This will maintain the vigour of the grasses. Allowing native pastures to seed in autumn will also encourage the spread of these grasses in a pasture.
  • Helena described the optimum resting of pastures in a rotational grazing system as the ‘three leaf rule’. The three leaf rule allows the grass roots enough time to recover to maintain good production and for the grass to have the optimum sugar level for horses. The leaf stage of optimum grazing will depend on the species of grass. The Grazing Management Tool provides advice on how to grow more pasture and influence the species mix in your pasture.

NSW Local Land Services runs Prograze courses that can help property owners develop skills in managing their pasture. Contact your local office.

Stringhalt

Stringhalt is a plant poisoning syndrome that affects horses and is caused by the ingestion of flatweed. At the workshop over one third of the participants had horses that were affected by stringhalt. Helena recommended the Investigations into the Australian Causes of Stringhalt in Horses publication for managing horses with stringhalt.

Laminitis

After colic, laminitis is the second largest killer of horses in Australia. Laminitis is caused by overconsumption of grasses or feeds high in sugar, but it is often associated with some other stress factor. The critical point to remember when feeding a horse with a high risk of foundering is to keep the structural carbohydrates low. The availability of sugars in grasses is impacted by a number of factors including the species of grass, moisture stress, time of day and amount of shade in a paddock. The production rate of sugar in grasses is linked to photosynthesis.

Perennial pastures require resting to maintain their leaf production and to be safe for horses at risk of laminitis to graze. Continually grazed grasses at the 1 leaf stage are high in sugar and can increase laminitis risk. More mature grasses in the three leaf stage of production have lower sugar levels. Native pasture grasses are lower in sugars than introduced pasture grasses. The types of grasses suitable for horses are different to those suitable for ruminants. Cattle and sheep digest sugars in grass in the rumen to feed the microbes in the stomach. In horses sugar is digested in the hindgut, from here the sugar enters the bloodstream which can cause metabolic syndromes such as laminitis.

Weeds in hay

Helena recommends that you monitor your feed sources, especially hay, for weed contamination. Some pasture grass hay can be contaminated with undesirable pasture species and weeds.  If hay you are buying is cheap this is usually for a reason. If you are unsure of a grass species advertised you can look up the NSW DPI Weed Wise website and NSW Plant Net website.

Feed rations

The quote of the day was ‘feed to work’. Would it surprise you to learn that some pleasure horses are overfed? Helena explained how to calculate a ration for a horse based on condition score, growth stage, level of work, pasture availability and feed types.

You can create a feed budget for your horse using the links below. Having a feed budget can save you time and money and you can tailor the ration to what feeds are available. Please note that these are general guides and the condition of individual horses should be monitored to ensure animal welfare requirements are met.

Feed requirements of horses – for working out what to feed

FeedXL on line – application (fees apply) for working out feed requirements.

Parasitic worms

Worm testing and rotational grazing are critical elements in an effective worm management program. Some horses have high worm burdens, while others have developed natural resistance. The only way to find out if your horse needs a drench is by doing a faecal worm egg test. You can get testing kits from Local Land Services or many rural suppliers.

Faecal worm egg testing allows you to choose the appropriate type of drench to use. It is important to not routinely drench using the same active ingredient as this increases the likelihood of developing worms with drench resistance.

Integrated pest management for horse farms
Primefact – Worm Control in Horses

Soils

According to Helena the best time to take soil samples is in October when the soil is depleted during the pasture growing season. Further advice about soil sampling and fertilising pastures can be found in the Fertilisers for Pastures booklet. Some benchmarks for healthy soils can be found here.

During the field day we looked at the soil test results from the property. The test results indicated that the soil pH was probably too low and the Aluminium too high. Y

Harrowing horse paddocks and using rotational grazing can help increase organic matter in the soil and reduce fertiliser costs. Soil testing and working out a nutrient budget can help you decide if additional fertilisers are required. Fertilisers for Pastures contains a guide to working out a nutrient budget for a horse property.

More information
Pasture Management and Laminitis Risk
Diagnosing and treating gastric ulcers in horses
How to discourage your horse from eating sand
Poisonous plants of horses field guide
Strategic planning for horse properties

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Small Farms Network Capital Region Inc
PO Box 313
Bungendore
NSW 2621

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