A major part of a horse's diet is hay or pasture. A horse weighing
1000 pounds will eat about 500 pounds each month. A horse needs
roughly 28 acres of non-irrigated, dryland pasture a year if that
is the only source of forage. However, a pasture that is irrigated
will grow more forage than dryland pasture, requiring less acreage.
The amount of irrigated pasture needed for one horse is roughly
1 to 2 acres.
Two acres of pasture for each horse are recommended. One acre of
pasture will provide adequate grazing, but requires more pasture
management. Manage your pasture as you would with any crop with
soil testing, fertilizing, and managing manure. Horses will not
eat trampled grass or grass with manure on it. Horses will also
overgraze smaller areas very quickly. Therefore, a combination of
pasture and small lot or barn is needed to help minimize overgrazing.
Do not let horses overgraze the pasture as this can cause grass
to no longer grow. Keep pasture grass healthy--overgrazed pasture
may never recover. To allow for re-growth, leave about 1/3 of the
grass uneaten at any given time. The horse can be confined to the
lot or barn and only allowed to graze for a few hours a day, reducing
damage to a small pasture. Rotational pasture lots are one key to
using small acreage pasture space to the fullest potential. Portable
electric fencing provides an efficient and economic way to partition
you pasture. Over-supplementing your horse with hay and grain will
not prevent your horse from overgrazing.
Pasture grazing is not absolutely necessary for a horse. A nice
green pasture is not always a reality. Horses can be properly fed
without pasture. However, pasture has several advantages as it is
the natural feed for horses, reduces the cost of feeding, provides
your horse with exercise, and generally speaking, horses are usually
healthier when kept outside on pasture.
Establishing and maintaining a productive pasture is not too difficult.
A few dollars spent on soil nutrients for your pasture is a good
investment. Fertilizer will help your pasture to become more productive
and produce more forage. Fertilizer costs will generally be offset
from good pasture rotating and from savings in feed costs for hay
and grain supplements.
Mowing is also important of pasture management. It minimizes the
spread of weeds to help maintain higher quality forage. Mowing weeds
before seed heads are produced limits the spread of weeds. Grass
should be mowed to 3-4 inches.
No matter how well you manage your pasture, it will most likely
thin. To help ensure pasture continues to produce good grass, new
forage seed should be spread every year. It is recommended re-seeding
be done in the spring or fall. In the spring, wet conditions will
allow for germination and growth, but only if it is not too wet
or muddy. In the fall, there will be less competition from weeds.
Grazing should not be allowed on new grass seedlings for approximately
6 to 8 weeks after emerging from the ground to allow for proper
Caution! Turning your horse out on green lush pasture before conditioning
him to a change in diet is dangerous and can result in sickness
or possibly death. Start your horse out slowly by letting him graze
for few minutes each day and gradually increase to a few hours each
About the Author
Randall Holman, site owner
of Front Range Frenzy and horse enthusiast, is the author of this
article. You will find other easy and practical basic horse care information
on his website: http://www.FrontRangeFrenzy.com.