Does stockpiling grass (letting it grow in the months leading up to fall/winter and then letting it be grazed as an alternative to hay) work for horses or is this only something used in cattle farming? I see fescue being the most common grass to stockpile but I’ve also read that bahia, which is what I have, can be stockpiled as well. Just curious if this could be another way to reduce reliance on hay.
Most horses won’t eat grasses that grow to the “tall and seed head” stage, preferring the shorter, more tender grass. It’s recommended to cut grass to 6" or so for grazing. My horses graze their pasture most of the winter, but it is no replacement for quality hay for me. I’d need a LOT of pasture to make up that calorie intake. Granted, I live in an area where the winters are wet and land is in short supply, so the smaller pastures cannot be overgrazed or even walked on to avoid tearing them up. Most horse folks keep sacrifice pasture or paddocks for that reason.
If you had a few horses, and lots of quality pasture, lived in a mild climate area, then this is certainly doable as a supplement to hay. I find that the higher the quality of hay, the less waste I get, making for a cost savings overall.
Probably a different world you live in, but here, short grass prairie, we stockpile grasses that keep mature horses thriving during the growing seasons.
One limiting nutrient factor in diets is generally measured as percentage of protein.
Here it is 12% to 17% in different actively growing grasses and other plants horses eat.
Once mature, the protein goes down to 4% to 8 % at best, not enough.
Horses would starve on stockpiled grasses alone.
They could not eat enough by volume in a day to maintain their weight, so we supplement with alfalfa hay.
Our mature pastured horses have thrived on that for a good 100+ years now.
Young, rapidly growing horses under 2 are also supplemented with phosphorus, generally in the form of oats, that is needed for the ca/po balance necessary under that management, since our grasses and alfalfa being too high on ca throws that balance off.
How to use stockpiled pastures depends on your area and what your tests show.
If you ask your county agent, they may have those numbers at hand for the plants you have, or tell you where to send samples for testing and help you manage best for the situation.
I could see this working in a dry cold climate in the months before snowfall. I think @NancyM talked about doing that on her ranch.
In my wet climate, grass tends to get very degraded once it dies. Some species die, fall over, rot. Horses won’t eat that. Other species keep growing slowly all winter until we get a strong cold snap. But leaving horses on a wet field all winter destroys the turf.
Also consider stocking rate, turf will be damaged if you carry two horses per acre, not so much if 30 acres per horse minimum, like here.
I do let one field grow up all summer than use it for turnout (day) dec thru spring. It’s not so much for feed but for horse mental health - they get more than enough nutrition from their hay in the barn at night, but going out and pawing keeps them moving and happy with a belly of roughage without packing on the pounds from standing bellied up to the hay feeder boredom eating all day. I am in Manitoba so cold, dry winters.
If you are growing bahaia, you might do better to overseed with annual ryegrass in the winter.
My horses won’t eat bahaia that’s gotten much height on it when it’s still growing season. Doubt they’d care for it after frost. Granted my horses are spoiled.
I plant winter grazing (annual ryegrass). It’s not free but it does reduce hay consumption and spring weeds. It also looks pretty.
I do live in a fairly warm, humid climate so maybe stockpiling isn’t the best answer. I could look into overseeding with rye though, maybe that’s the next best alternative to using hay. I guess I’d have to balance costs to see if it’s worth it. Just curious, if this was a thing with horses or not.
Costs vary of course. But FWIW, my costs were approximately $250 per acre for seed and fertilizer this past “winter”. I got a solid 5 months of grazing from that investment, and I was late seeding. On my place, the ryegrass was not quite as durable as my bahaia / Bermuda mix warm season grazing. I’d roughly estimate at 75% compared to warm season grasses. I did have to mow it a few times this spring. YMMV of course.
i do it mainly for winter mental health and mobility.
Our pasture is mostly timothy and we’re located in Iowa where we get a hard freeze by end of november or so. I wait to give them full access until we’ve had a good rain or snow after that, to let the sugars leach out. They also have a roundbale and I just let them decide what they need. They tend to browse the pastures for a few hours at a time and then come back in for water and a session at the roundbale. Up until the extreme dead of winter, there are always enough isolated green bits to keep them interested in roaming the pasture. When it’s nasty out, the pattern is reversed- they mostly hang around the roundbale I give a bit of ration balancer morning and night, mostly just to ensure I lay eyes on them 2x a day, count that all legs are attached.
Edit: I do think this is a cost savings, they eat less hay. But not a replacement for hay