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Pasture renovation

I’m looking for suggestions/ideas/cautions for renovating a small field.

In the spring, my horses are confined to a small (1-1/2 acre) field that I can keep mowed. This spring and last spring we had very hot weather and drought. That, combined with grazing pressure, has stressed the grass enough that I need to do something to renovate it for next spring. Usually what grows in the spring is a mixture of fescue, orchard grass, and ladino clover. Right now, because it’s late summer, I’m seeing a lot of bermuda, crab grass, and lespedeza (Marion, I think). I don’t want to do anything to kill off the summer grasses because the horses do really well with it. Unfortunately, these grasses don’t grow in the spring.

My horses are two very easy keeper geldings. One has a history of laminitis, so I have to be very careful with his exposure to spring grass. The horses are confined exclusively to the small field for 2-3 months from late April or early May until the end of June. I can’t turn them out in larger fields any sooner than July. They wear grazing muzzles in the pasture and are confined to a small dry lot for part of the day during the longest days.

The only practical way for me to renovate this field is to broadcast seed in the thin places, and I’m trying to decide what seed to use. I’m thinking probably a mixture of fescue and orchard grass, but I’m open to suggestions. I need something that will provide grazing during the spring season yet not founder my laminitis horse. Any thoughts?

You might consider dragging a chain harrow teeth down, some old tires tied on for weight to dig in a little or light discing that just cuts lines in the dirt surface, before spreading seed. Then drag the chain harrow again after seeding. Grass seeds only need a tiny bit of dirt cover to help germination. I think you would get better growth “roughing up” the dirt, than just throwing seed onto the soil. Your current grass should come back just fine despite a bit of rough treatment by machinery.

Aeration of the soil is helpful to growrh. Another tool might be to rent an aerator that punches holes in the dirt, leaving small clots of soil from making holes in the ground. Dirt clots will disappear after a rain or two. Throw the seed after aeration. I have done that with good results. Machine is usually self driven, not hard to push. Lots of yards now the size of your pasture, so not an impossible job. You will probably need help getting machine in and out of the truck. My rental was HEAVY.

No advice on seed because I am up north. No fescue here because we breed for a foal now and then. Teff grass seed is a consideration for those horses with issues, very desirable as hay. It is an annual, needs replanting yearly, doesn’t do cold weather. Talk to your Extension Service or a grass seed producer about grazing it. They SHOULD be able to give you more information about using it as grazing grass.

Know that mowing cuts off the older grass growth, so grass produces new growth that likely has more sugars in it. Letting field “go to seed” only helps a little, horses don’t lIke eating long, tough leaves of grass. Horse will go back to overgraze their favorite places, to turn them into dirt. One of those " you can’t win" situations! Ha ha

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Would you be getting a soil test and then add amendments?